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Margaret Gray

Research project title

The Political Economy of Material Objects: An Analysis of Commerce, Craftsmanship, and Nationhood in Victorian Women’s Travel Writing 1844-1899


Dr Ella Dzelzainis and Dr Jacob Jewusiak

Contact details



Research interests

  • travel writing
  • art and culture in Meiji Japan
  • Victorian aesthetics/arts and crafts movements
  • 19th and 20th-century women’s writing
  • history of the book
  • political economy
  • feminism and economics
  • globalisation
  • christianity in literature
  • comparative studies (European and Asian literature)
  • detective fiction
  • Tolkien
brown wooden table in the middle of a brown decorated room

A brief outline of my research project

Female explorers in the nineteenth century took a particular interest in detailing domestic objects and textiles displayed in homes, bazaars, festivals, and temples across the Middle East and Asia in the nineteenth century, and in pointing out the monetary or aesthetic values placed on those objects in their country of origin.

Many critics have taken this interest as a signal that Victorian women had to maintain their place within the ‘domestic sphere’ even while writing in a conventionally ‘masculine’ genre. However, this critical interpretation does not account for the contextualisation of ‘domestic’ descriptions within larger discussions of global trade activity and the cultural, social, and political ramifications of those activities.

Placed in context with political economic debates of the same period, women’s comparisons of the British industrial exports and locally produced items sold together in Eastern marketplaces betray the authors’ anxieties about the cultural decline and social ennui resulting from the rise of global, industrial capitalism in the late nineteenth century. Specifically, I argue that women’s reporting on the impact of global industrialisation on traditional craftsmanship in Egypt, Persia, China, and Japan acts as a mirror to the decline of traditional craftsmanship and class identity in Great Britain.

Research activities

My academic background

  • MA English Literary Studies, University of Exeter
  • BA English - Creative Writing, University of West Florida