Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Josephine Rout on Dress for Female Students in Japan

Josephine discussed recent research she has undertaken as part of the Royal College of Art and Victoria and Albert Museum’s joint Master’s programme. Josephine focused on the development of dress for female students, or jogakusei, in Japan’s Meiji Period (1868-1912). In this epoch, a concern with modernisation and ‘catching up with the West’ often played out in terms of women’s education, and Josephine used a particular garment, the hakama (a sort of culottes worn over kimono) to illuminate the history of Meiji jogakusei. Associated with state functions, hakama were a garment typically worn by men prior to this period. Josephine suggested that the adoption of hakama by female students reflected an identification with the figure of the student, rather than gender travesty: the only grown-up students prior to this period were male, and as they wore hakama, so did the new breed of jogakusei. Regardless, the short hairstyles and supposed masculinisation of female students were castigated in the media, and there was a more general distaste symbolised in, for example, the magazine serial from 1905 entitled ‘Tales of Degenerate Schoolgirls’. Josephine illustrated her talk with modern-day hakama (the piece remains popular as graduation garb for female students), as well as a wealth of images that included some from children’s books of the period.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Diane Purkiss on Children's Literature at Oxford

Dr Diane Purkiss began by assuring the group that there is nothing more traditional to the children's book than being soaked to the skin: highly apposite, of course, as most members of her audience were in that very state on the wet Bank Holiday Monday of this talk!

Diane discussed the new special topic option for third-year Oxford undergraduates, which involves centralised teaching in children's literature: a milestone for a university that has sometimes dismissed the subject out of hand. This dismissal is rather perplexing, of course, as Oxford (more so even than the 'Other Place', in Diane's august opinion) has produced a slew of phenomenal children's books, and also holds one of the best collections of children's literature in the world (the Opie Collection at the Bodleian). The special topic programme legitimates Oxford as a cultural centre of children's literature, while also legitimating students' interest in studying and researching children's literature at Oxford.

To this end Diane ranged over authors including Carroll, Lewis, Tolkien, Diana Wynne Jones, Alan Garner, and Matthew Skelton, and topics including the effect of both Oxford's built environment and its pastoral surrounds on children's books written here, or about here. She also spoke to the broader issues involved in the discipline: the relationship between adult author and child reader, and the perhaps less acknowledged relationship between adult and (remembered) child selves for any one individual. Her talk was an exciting taste of the programme, and I'll update you all on its progress as classes get up and running next academic year.

Alice and the Mouse swimming in the Pool of Tears: May weather in Oxford isn't quite that wet, but still....