Friday, December 18, 2015

Michael A. McDonnell

Michael A. McDonnell is Associate Professor of History at the University of Sydney. He is the author of Masters of Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America (Hill and Wang, 2015), Remembering the Revolution: Memory, History, and Nation-Making from Independence to the Civil War (2013), and The Politics of War: Race, Class, and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia (2007), winner of the 2008 New South Wales Premier’s History Prize. His work was included in the Best American History Essays 2008 and he won the Lester Cappon Prize for the best article published in the William and Mary Quarterly in 2006. He has received numerous research scholarships and grants in the United States and Australia and has served as a distinguished lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. He lives in Sydney, Australia, with his family.

Recently I asked McDonnell about what he was reading. His reply:
Funny enough, I’ve just been reading the work of two great Australian historians - who happen to be married to each other. One of the wonderful things about teaching here in Australia is that it forces you to read widely and think comparatively, if only to keep up with the varied interests of amazing colleagues.

Recently, we took a trip up to Magnetic Island, just off the east coast of Australia and within the Great Barrier Reef. I took along a copy of Iain McCalman’s The Reef: A Passionate History, that relates the human history of the Reef in a series of brilliantly told biographies from Captain Cook to Charlie Veron – an environmental activist trying to document the shocking effects of climate change on the Reef today. I don’t normally read non-fiction while trying to relax, but Iain’s book was a compelling and delightful read. He brings to life in vivid detail Cook’s claustrophobic and near- deadly encounter with this uncharted wonder, different Aboriginal communities’ relationship to its nurturing grasp, and the science (and scandals) surrounding the study of corals and reefs. Now heading up the Sydney Environment Institute, Iain is turning his considerable passion for the Reef into a cross-disciplinary conversation to understand the complex relationships between human communities and the natural world, and to solve some of the key environmental questions of our time.

In turn, since getting back to work, I’ve been revisiting Kate Fullagar’s remarkable book, The Savage Visit: New World People and Popular Imperial Culture in Britain, 1710-1795,
to ready myself to write an introduction for an edited collection we are putting together, called “Facing Empire: Indigenous Experiences of Empire in a Revolutionary Age.” We are keen to explore the similarities and differences in experiences and the connections between Indigenous peoples in North America, the Cape, and the Indian and Pacific Oceans between about 1750 and 1840. Kate is one of the few scholars who has put theory into practice and written a stunning transnational history of indigenous visits to Britain from around the globe. In compelling prose and introducing a dizzying cast of intriguing characters, Kate’s book makes an important argument about the influence of indigenous peoples on British politics, and specifically imperial debates. The evidence shows a growing ambivalence about the enterprise of empire among an increasingly nationalistic home population in the latter half of the eighteenth century. It is a bold and breathtaking view of indigenous peoples and empire at a critical moment in British and world history and deserves a wide audience.
Visit Michael A. McDonnell's website, blog, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue