Professor Ian Duncan Returns from Sabbatical

The view looking out over the Bosphorus and our local Greek Orthodox church from the house where Professor Duncan stayed in Istanbul

Our first blog post of this year detailed some reading recommendations which members of our department had read over the summer.  Having just recently returned from a year-long sabbatical, Professor Ian Duncan supplied a wonderful list as well.  What follows is a brief account of Professor Duncan’s doings in Turkey interspersed with a bevy of titles which might catch your eye.


Professor Duncan spent part of his sabbatical in Istanbul, Turkey.  He and his wife were living in Arnavutkoy, a former fishing village on the banks of the Bosporus that is now within the city’s limits but has yet to be absorbed into the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.  Small houses and the best seafood in Istanbul offered him an idyllic setting to embark on a number of research projects.  Indeed, Professor Duncan served as a visiting scholar at Bosporus (Boğaziçi) University during his stay in Istanbul which gave him office space and library access that facilitated his work on a new edition of Scottish writer James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and

The cover of Hogg's novel using Blake's famous drawing.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner for Oxford World Classics. Though Professor Duncan notes that there are a number of very good editions of Hogg’s novel, especially the Edinburgh scholarly edition of Hogg’s collected works, he wanted to provide an updated edition that was aimed at the general reader and the university student.  Rather than focusing on the text’s publication history and its position in the tradition of Scottish writing, Professor Duncan composed an introduction that situates the Confessions within wider frameworks of Romanticism and Romantic fiction more generally.  He thus goes beyond the 17th century church controversy and discussions of Calvinist theology that provide much of the background for the novel to also provide a commentary on the relation between fanaticism and civil society.  He is particularly pleased with the proposed cover design (shown at left) which uses William Blake’s drawing “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun” to accentuate the fact that Hogg’s novel was the first “serial-killer” fiction that we have. (Think Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels.)

Though he confesses that he had imagined that he would be able to finish this project with relative alacrity, it took much longer than he thought (as so many projects do).  By the late spring, he and his wife left Istanbul to spend the summer on the Mediterranean where he was able to start some reading for his current research project on the novel and the “sciences of man.”  Intriguingly, he perused the 1854 reprint of Alexander von Humboldt‘s Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent in the Years 1799-1804 using Google books. This edition, he notes, is “Helen Maria Williams’s Romantic-period translation – the same translation that Charles Darwin read when he was a student at Cambridge.  Humboldt’s Personal Narrative inspired Darwin with the desire to visit the tropics; he took it with him on the voyage of the Beagle.”

Additionally, Professor Duncan spent much time reading the following works of history of science that are “of great interest to those of us in the humanities:”

–Robert J. Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior (1987) and Richards’s more recent The Romantic Conception of Life (2002: good on German Romanticism and the emergent life sciences);

–Martin J.S. Rudwick, Worlds before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform (Chicago, 2008) – a sequel to the same author’s Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution (Chicago, 2005);

–John H. Zammito, Kant, Herder, and the Birth of Anthropology (2002: a revelatory account of the parting of the ways between philosophy and anthropology).

Professor Duncan’s stay in Turkey was not all work, however, and he recounts a lovely weekend spent in Mardin, a Turkish city near the Syrian border.  Similarly, his reading was not all in the service of his current research project.  He notes his enjoyment of Cólm Toibín’s The Master. “It shouldn’t work – it’s a novel about a novelist, and Henry James, no less – but it’s almost miraculously good,” he comments.  He also notes that he spent some time catching up on the last few novels by the “wonderful (and wonderfully prolific, in his old age)” Italian author Andrea Camilleri. He writes, “It doesn’t do them justice to call them police procedurals; unfortunately they lose just about everything in English translation, not necessarily due to the shortcomings of the translator, but because most of their zest lies in the extraordinary style devised by Camilleri – an at once demotic and poetic Italian inflected through the dialect of the southern coast of Sicily. There’s no conceivable English equivalent.  I’ve now read all of the Montalbano series except for the most recent, L’Età del dubbio (The Age of Doubt), and I’m trying to postpone it in case it may be the last …”

Please help us welcome Professor Duncan back to Berkeley after what sounds like a productive and enjoyable time away.