The Discovery of Islands

Colin Kidd writes:

However, geography is not a straightforward determinant of history. Sometimes the geographical underpinnings of grand narratives are as much a human construct as the narratives themselves. This is one of the dominant themes of Pocock’s collection of essays The Discovery of Islands, whose autobiographical passages reveal the source of his fascination with geography. Though born in London in 1924, Pocock comes of ‘settler descent in the fourth generation’. (His great-grandfather had gone to the Cape Colony in South Africa in 1842.) The young John Pocock moved in 1927 to New Zealand, where his father, Lewis, who had taken a degree in classics after his wartime service, became a professor at Canterbury University College. Pocock’s mother, Antoinette Le Gros, was born in the Channel Islands, the daughter of a French-speaking Methodist minister. Although Pocock has spent most of his career in the United States, the condition of New Zealand has had a profound influence on his historical imagination.

(LRB 6 November 2008)

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