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Publishers of award-winning illustrated books on art, history, archaeology, world cultures and more.

A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World

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How old is the oldest chat-up line between men? Who was the first ‘lesbian’? Were ancient Greek men who had sex together necessarily ‘gay’? And what did Shakespeare think about cross-dressing?

This week, we are excited to be publishing A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World by R.B. Parkinson. This exciting book draws on objects ranging from ancient Egyptian papyri and the erotic scenes on the Roman ‘Warren Cup’ to modern images by artists such as David Hockney and Bhupen Khakhar to consider questions like these.

The concepts of human desire and gender have never been straightforward and have been shaped in many different ways, both throughout history and across the globe. This book takes over 40 artefacts from many cultures and from all periods to look at the intimate issues behind these objects and to ask a question that concerns us all: how easily can we recognize love in history?

Concise and beautifully illustrated with objects from the British Museum’s far-ranging collection , A Little Gay History provides an intriguing and valuable insight into the range, diversity  and complexity of same-sex desire.

Author R. B. Parkinson, a curator of ancient Egyptian culture at the British Museum, has chosen his three favourite objects from the book.

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Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 – 78), Avanzi del Tempio del Dio Canopo nella Villa Adriana in Tivoli. Rome, c. 1760 – 78. Etching on paper, 45.5 x 58.5 cm.

R.B.P.: This etching by Piranesi has great personal resonance: it shows the ruins of the emperor Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli was one of the inspirations for Marguerite Yourcenar’s poetic novel, Memoirs of Hadrian (1951), and a print of it hung over the fireplace in the house in Maine where Yourcenar lived with her translator and life-partner Grace Frick.  Whenever I travel, I take a copy of the novel with me.

R.B.P: One favourite object is the British Museum itself, which provided the setting for one of the greatest gay romantic moments in English literature: the scene in E. M. Forster’s novel Maurice, where the two heroes finally realise they are in love, superbly filmed by Merchant Ivory Productions in 1987.  Gay romance on a grand scale and with a happy ending.

You can view a clip from Maurice on the British Museum’s YouTube channel.

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R.B.P.: This badge from the 1980s by the wonderful cartoonist and illustrator Kate Charlesworth wittily caricatures stereotypes and assumptions about LGBT identity.

Images © The Trustees of the British Museum.

A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World (£9.99) is published by the British Museum Press, and is available now in all good bookshops. For more information and to look inside the book, visit the British Museum shop online.

The British Museum Press in Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013 Catalogue Cover

Our Autumn 2013 catalogue is now available!

Accompanying two major exhibitions in Autumn, we will be publishing Beyond El Dorado: power and gold in ancient Colombia and Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art.  In August we will publish Sex on Show: Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome by the award-winning author Carrie Vout, bringing new insights to Greek and Roman culture and erotic imagery, past and present. In October, we will publish 5000 Years of Tiles, showcasing the incredible range of tile arts and production techniques, and revealing a fascinating history of design, colour and decoration.

Beyond El Dorado cover - low-resShunga cover 2-5-13 low-resSex on Show cover low-resThe Greek Vase cover low-res5000 Years of Tiles cover - low-resMasterpieces - Early Medieval Art cover low-resRoman Empire cover -  low-resCurious Beasts front cover low-resHaiku Love cover - low-resPersian Love Poetry cover low-resThe Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia low-res

These are just a few highlights from our Autumn 2013 list. To view the full catalogue, visit the British Museum Press website.

Happy reading this Autumn!

Masks: The Art of Expression

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We’re pleased to announce that a new paperback edition of our beautifully illustrated book, Masks: The Art of Expression, is published today.

From ancient times to the present day, masks and the practice of masquerading have exerted a powerful fascination among people around the world. Through their ability to conceal, reveal and transfigure, masks have become a near-universal phenomenon yet their nature, functions and meaning of these disguises are strikingly different across cultures.

In ritual and religious use, as today in Africa or Oceania, mask-wearers may be thought to be possessed by – or even become – a spirit or a god. In ancient Egypt, funerary masks were intended to equip the dead with divine powers and attributes, but the masks used in Japanese Noh plays or in ancient Greek drama helped to portray character. The masks themselves are extraordinary objects made from every kind of material. Beautiful, elaborate, fierce, grotesque or elegant, they demonstrate the creative skills and aesthetics of many different periods and cultures.

This updated edition of a classic book showcases an array of magnificent masks from the British Museum’s collection and beyond. Including examples from eight principal areas – Africa, Oceania, Latin America, the Northwest coast of America, Japan, classical Greece and Rome, Egypt and Europe – Masks: The Art of Expression provides a fascinating insight into the great variety of masks and masking traditions around the world.

We’ve included here a short selection of masks featured in the book.

Mask 1

The mask of Hanna is one of the most well-known masks from Nō. It is used for the character of a jealous and revengeful demon who was once a beautiful woman. The eyes, originally of gilded metal, glare out, the mouth is drawn wide open in a ferocious snarl and the horns embody evil. Only the faint trace of eyebrows high on the forehead and the suggestion of delicate features indicate her former beauty. H. (without horns) 20.3 cm. British Museum 1946,1216.2. Donated by C. Winch.

Mask 2

North American wood mask, probably representing a creature of spirit associated with a specific family tradition in the Winter Ceremonial. Collected, before 1868, at Fort Rupert, the Hudson’s Bay Company post at the northern end of Vancouver island, where the Kwakwaka’wakw met and traded with other peoples from further north. H. 20 cm. British Museum Am.1562. Donated By Henry Christy.

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Dance mask in the form of a demon’s face. Papier mâché covered with clay. Chorida, India, 1994. H. 57 cm; W. 51 cm; Donated by Daniel J. Ryscroft. British Museum As1995,17.3.

Mask 4

North American mask of wood and fur, from the Makah, Washington State, representing Bookwus, Wild Man of the Woods. 20th century. H. 23 cm. British Museum Am1941,01.1. Donated by Harry Geoffrey Beasley.

Text and images © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Masks: The Art of Expression is edited by John Mack and is published by the British Museum Press at £25. For further information, please visit the British Museum shop website.

Historical Autumnal Recipes

The leaves are turning and the nights are drawing in – embrace autumn with two cosy comfort food recipes from the British Museum Press. Have fun!

82035_Classical_jkt.inddSalt Meat Stew

This is a simple yet appetizing stew, a peasant meal with the addition of more spices than would be available to most peasants. It is recorded in a Greek papyrus from Egypt but it could equally have been a Roman dish: the ingredients are reminiscent of sauces found in Apicius.

Traditionally pork was salted not because of a flavour preference, but as the most economic way to preserve it for the winter: excess saltiness was then removed by the initial boiling specified in this recipe. Salted pork would hang in the fireplace in many ancient households.

Most of the flavourings listed are seeds, and we are not unfamiliar with roasting these, but why roast the herb thyme? The answer is simply that when thyme is dry-roasted the green leaves are easily removed from the stalk, making the herb easier to use.

Serves 4

1 lb (450g) gammon joint or smoked ham

1 pint (2 ½ cups/570 ml) white wine

10 fl oz (1 ¼ cups/280 ml) white grape juice

5 fl oz (⅔ cup/150 ml) white wine vinegar

2 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp aniseed

1 tsp fennel seeds

6 small sprigs of thyme

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tbsp (30 g) honey

½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper

2 thick slices coarse whole-wheat bread

Cut the meat into small chunks, cover with water in a pan and bring to the boil. Discard the water, pour the wine, grape juice and vinegar over the meat and return to the heat. Combine the whole spice seeds and the thyme, spread on a baking tray and dry-roast them for 5 minutes in the oven at 400 0F (200 0F/gas mark 6). Shred the leaves from the stems of the thyme and place them in a mortar along with the seeds. Pound them until they are like breadcrumbs. Add this mixture to the stew and continue to simmer. Cook the stew for a total of 45 minutes. Towards the end add the cumin, honey and pepper. Cut the bread into chunks and place them in the oven for 5 minutes to dry them out a little. Add the bread to the stew: it will eventually soak up and thicken the juices.

Recipe extract from The Classical Cookbook, by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger, British Museum Press £10.99. ©Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger

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Fig and raisin ‘cream’

This mixture can be served hot or cold over a sweet cereal dish, firm stewed fruit or – best of all – ice cream. Some other versions in other manuscripts are stiffer and make a good filling for tartlets or fried puffs. One encloses the filling in pastry to make dumplings.

Serves 6

125 g/4 oz well-soaked dried figs

125 g/4 oz stoned raisins

275 ml/10 fl oz/ ¼ cups red wine (not too dry)

Good pinch of ground black pepper

1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Soft dark brown sugar to taste

3 teaspoons rice flour or cornflour

A drop or two of red food colouring

Salt to taste
Drain the figs, reserving the soaking liquid. Discard the stalk ends of the fruit and put them in a saucepan with the raisins and wine. Add the spices and a teasoon of sugar and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and cool slightly, then turn the mixture into an electric blender and process until smooth. Add a little of the soaking water if the mixture is stubbornly solid.

Cream the rice flour or cornflour with a  little more soaking water or wine and brighten the tint with a drop of food colouring. Blend the ‘cream’ into the dried-fruit purée. Then return the whole mixture to the saucepan and simmer until it thickens slightly. Season with salt and a little extra sugar if you wish.

Recipe extract from The Medieval Cookbook, by Maggie Black, British Museum Press £10.99. ©Maggie Black

The Medieval Cookbook and The Classical Cookbook are available online from the British Museum shop.

Bath Literature Festival – 2-11 March 2012

While the outlook is cold and gloomy, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bright spot on the horizon for literature lovers. The full line up for the Bath Literature Festival (2-11 March 2012) has now been released and as predicted, it looks fantastic. The British Museum Press is delighted to be joining up with this event for the first time and presenting lectures and talks from the Authors of three of our most recent releases.

The full programme is available here or read the rest of this entry for details of all featured British Museum Press events:

FRIDAY 9TH MARCH 2012

Indigo
Guildhall, G5
1.00pm – 2.00pm, This event has now sold out.

Writer, artist, traveller and lecturer, Jenny Balfour-Paul has researched and worked with indigo for over two decades. In today’s multi-coloured world, it is hard to imagine the incredible impact indigo must have had on the many civilizations that chanced upon it. Jenny uncovers all aspects of this subject: historical, agricultural, and scientific; sociological, medicinal, and folkloric.

Ticket holders can enjoy a FREE screening of Mary Lance’s documentary film Blue Alchemy: Stories of Indigo from 2.45 – 4pm.

SATURDAY 10TH MARCH 2012

David Stuttard on The Olympics
Bath Masonic Hall, H2
1.00pm – 2.00pm, £8 (£7 concessions)

Power: The power of the gods, the power of Greek cities, the power of the human body; all of these were celebrated at the ancient Olympic Games. David Stuttard gets up close and personal and shows us what it was like to be there, to witness the rituals, official banquets, bloody contests, victory celebrations and subsequent political parleys. This is your chance for a ringside seat.

How the Olympics Came to Be
The Holburne Museum, H8
1.15pm-2.15pm £5
Ages 5 – 10, children must be accompanied.

Join Helen East, storyteller and author, to hear all about the excitement of the ancient Olympic Games and the gods, heroic mortals and adventures that inspired them! Helen will be telling stories around the museum so seek her out and find out more about the origins of the Olympic Games.

Event bookings are now open, head to the Bath Literature Festival site for more information.

Author Q and A: David Stuttard

In anticipation of the release of our new title Power Games : Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Greek Olympics we spoke to author,  playwright and classicist David Stuttard about Ancient Greece, London 2012 and which historical figure he most identifies with.

David Stuttard

David Stuttard

What did you find most exciting about embarking on Power Games: Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Greek Olympics?

There have been lots of books written about the Ancient Olympics, but what I was really excited about doing was trying to capture what the atmosphere might have been like at one particular Games.  To do this, I had to know not only exactly what was going on at the time I’d chosen (416 bc) but also precisely what the actual site at Olympia looked like in that year.  I wanted to be able to take the reader on a journey through Olympia with all its temples and statues and administrative buildings, so I needed to be able to build my own 3-D map of the site (albeit in my head).  That meant reading ancient accounts and getting to know as much as I possibly could about the physical geography – and revisiting the archaeological remains at Olympia, too, which (although I’d been several times before) came as something of a shock.  I’d created a really vivid mental picture of the site as it existed in all its glory in 416 bc and today, of course, it’s in ruins.

The first recorded Olympic Games took place in 776BC; can you tell us why you chose the events of 416BC as the focus for Power Games?

416 bc was a pivotal year for the ancient Olympics.  For one thing, it came at the end of a few years of phoney peace in the middle of a war (the Peloponnesian War) which involved pretty much the entire Greek world, stretching from modern Turkey to Sicily, as well as the Aegean islands and the Greek mainland itself.  For another, it involved big personalities, and the biggest of them all was Alkibiades.  In the 416 bc Games he entered a staggering seven teams in the chariot race, so that he came first, second and (depending on who you believe) either third or fourth. He was, in fact, using the Games as a vehicle for propaganda – not only for himself but for his city, Athens. We know that other important politicians from all over the Greek world were at the Games, too, using the occasion as an opportunity to hold talks and broker deals, so, given the fact that the book explores not just the athletic side of the Festival but the political and religious aspects too, it really did seem that 416 was the ideal year to focus on.  And it was.  I didn’t once regret the choice.

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Hoshino Yukinobu and Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure

Lots of excitement this week as our first ever manga,  Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure, by Hoshino Yukinobu, is now printing and will be arriving at British Museum Press HQ in less than two months!  In anticipation of its publication Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere, who has been working with Hoshino sensei on the project since its inception, took a trip to Japan to show the artist the final proofs of  his book. We asked Nicole to tell us a little more about her trip, Hoshino Yukinobu, and his thoughts on the English  publication of Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure. Read the rest of this entry to see what she had to report.

Through her work with Hoshino Yukinobu, Nicole inspired the character of Chris in Professor Munakata's British Museum Adventure

Nicole's work with Hoshino Yukinobu inspired the character of Chris in Professor Munakata's British Museum Adventure

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Women in the Ancient World

Yesterday saw Forbes announce their annual list of the  World’s 100 Most Powerful Women with Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton and Dilma Rouseff topping a list that includes politicians, CEOs, bankers, cultural icons, billionaires and entrepreneurs.

This inspiring reminder of the achievements of women in modern day society was closely followed by the arrival of our forthcoming title Women in the Ancient World (available from 26 September), offering us an alternative roll-call of women whose lives and roles went far beyond the traditional view of a ‘woman’s work’;  here are Drusilla, the first Roman woman to be recognized as a goddess;  Hatsheput, who bolstered her authority as Queen of Egypt by boldly adopting a male persona; Hypatia of Alexandria, an admired philosopher; and Sappho, one of the most famous musicians in antiquity.

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Juxtaposing these  public figures with themes such as domestic life, motherhood, stereotypes and depictions of the female body, Women in the Ancient World explores the different traditions, trends and attitudes towards women in ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and the Near East, as well as revealing some surprising resonances with our own time.

Read the rest of this entry for some of our favourite images from the book:

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Retail Recommends

Specialist booksellers from the British Museum Bookshop give their recommendations for the best illustrated titles across art, archaeology history and world cultures. This week Natasha and Sandra suggest  titles that give insights into two very distinct ancient cultures:

Babylon PBcover_aw_10

“Babylon: Myth and Reality – From the magnificence of Nebuchadnezzar’s state buildings and the ziggurat that inspired the tower of Babel, to the myths that surround the city of Babylon today, this book provides the reader with an insight into what was a truly captivating city.”  – Natasha, Bookseller

Neb jacket Front Cover

“The Painted Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun – This profusely illustrated book is the ultimate guided tour through the tomb-chapel of Nebamun. The author takes us on a detailed journey into the elite society of Ancient Egypt through the tombs beautiful paintings.” – Sandra, Bookseller

Both these recomended titles are available now on the British Museum online shop – with free delivery on all UK book orders.

Power Games: Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Greek Olympics

Look up the sky tonight and you should see the August full moon: a lunar event that has resonated throughout history. Next year this mysterious night will fall right in the middle of  the London 2012 Olympic Games and we’ve asked David Stuttard, author of our forthcoming title Power Games, to explain why this is more than just coincidence.

Power Games

For over a millennium, the August full moon marked the focal point of the four-yearly Festival which included the Olympic Games. To many Ancient Greeks the moon was a goddess, so the full moon had especial power. Like our Easter, the timing of the Olympic Festival was closely linked to the movement of the heavenly bodies – and, although we do not know exactly how the date was calculated, it seems to have coincided with the second or third full moon after the summer solstice, thus associating it with important dates in both the lunar and solar calendars.

The Greeks’ days began at sunset, and the central ‘day’ of the Olympics, when the moon was full, was spent in evening banqueting, morning sacrifices, and a few races in the afternoon. For the ancient Olympics were not just about athletics. They were part of ancient religious observations, where ritual was just as important as the sport – perhaps even more so. In 2012 the Olympic full moon is on 2nd August – but, although contestants in beach volley-ball, table-tennis or cycling events might take encouragement from the auspicious date, of all that day’s contestants, only the boxers can boast a truly ancient Olympic pedigree.

Power Games: Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Olympic Games will be publishing on 7 November 2011. ‘Read the rest of this entry’ for an extract from Chapter Four -  ‘the full moon chapter’

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