Mary Chamberlain

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Mary Chamberlain (born 3 September 1947) is a British novelist and historian. She has been largely collected by libraries worldwide.[1]

Early life[edit]

Chamberlain was born 3 September 1947 in South London,[2] and holds degrees from the University of Edinburgh, The London School of Economics and Political Science, and Royal Holloway, University of London.

Family life[edit]

She is married to the political scientist Stein Ringen.[3]

Historical career[edit]

Chamberlain is Emeritus Professor of History, at Oxford Brookes University.[4] Her book Fenwomen was the first book published by Virago Press in 1975,[5] and pioneered the use of oral history in the study of women’s history. It was also the inspiration for the Joint Stock production of Caryl Churchill’s award-winning play Fen (1983).[6] Fenwomen was followed by two further books on women’s history: Old Wives’ Tales: Their History, Remedies and Spells and Growing Up In Lambeth.

From 1987 to 1991, she lived in Barbados, and began working in Caribbean history. Using oral history, she published two pioneering studies of migration and families, Narratives of Exile and Return[7] and Family Love in the Diaspora: Migration and the Anglo Caribbean Experience,[8] and a further study of decolonization, Empire and Nation-building in the Caribbean: Barbados 1937–1966.[9]

Chamberlain is widely considered one of the founders of oral history,[10] was the reviews editor of the Oral History Journal from 1977 to 1987 and co-founder of the London History Workshop Centre.[11] She is the author of many articles on women's history, oral history and Caribbean history, has edited a number of books, and was a founding editor or the series Memory and Narrative. She has served on editorial, advisory and government committees,[12] and held visiting professorships at the University of the West Indies (1995, 2004), and New York University (2004). She has been the recipient of a number of research awards and is an adviser to the National Life Story Collection at the British Library[13] and the Raphael Samuel History Centre.[14]

National Life Stories conducted an oral history interview (C1149/27) with Mary Chamberlain in 2012 for its Oral History of Oral History collection held by the British Library.[15]

Fiction career[edit]

Her novel The Dressmaker of Dachau was published in 2015, and has sold to 18 countries. She credits the inspiration for the story to two of her aunts, one of whom left the family and ran away, the other was imprisoned by the Nazi regime during the Second World War.[16] She is also the author of an earlier novel set in the Caribbean, The Mighty Jester.


Chamberlain was one of the London Recruits, a group of young people recruited by the African National Congress (ANC) in the 1960s and 1970s to smuggle ANC and SACP literature into South Africa after the ANC had been decimated by the Rivonia trials of 1963/4.[17]


  • The Dressmaker of Dachau (2015)
  • The Mighty Jester (2014)
  • Empire and Nation-building in the Caribbean: Barbados 1937 – 1966 (2010)
  • Memories of Mass Repression (editor, with Nanci Adler, Selma Leydesdorff, Leyla Neyzi, 2009)
  • Family Love in the Diaspora: Migration and the Anglo Caribbean Experience (2006)
  • Caribbean Families in Britain and the Transatlantic World (editor, with Harry Goulbourne, 2001)
  • Caribbean Migration: Globalised Identities (editor, 1998)
  • Narrative and Genre (editor with Paul Thompson, 1998, 2004)
  • Narratives of Exile and Return (1997, 2004)
  • Growing Up In Lambeth (1989)
  • Writing Lives (editor, 1988)
  • Old Wives’ Tales: Their Histories, Charms, Spells (1981, 20060
  • Fenwomen: A Portrait of Women in an English Village (1975, 1983, 2011)

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Chamberlain, Mary". Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  2. ^ Who's Who entry on Mary Chamberlain, 2006 to present. London, A & C Black'
  3. ^ Who's Who entry on Stein Ringen. London, A & C Black.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Jennifer Dunning, "'Fen,' Unusual On-the-spot Creation", The New York Times, 21 June 1983.
  7. ^ Paul Thompson, Review of Narratives of Exile and Return in Reviews in History.
  8. ^ Alan L. Karras, Review of Family Love in the Diaspora, Migration and the Anglo-Caribbean Experience, in Journal of Social History, Vol. 40, No. 4, summer 2007, pp. 1055–1057.
  9. ^ Franklin W. Knight, Review of Empire and Nation-building in the Caribbean: Barbados 1937-1966 in The International History Review, Vol. 35, Issue 2, 2013.
  10. ^ Mary Chamberlain interviewed by Robert Wilkinson, Oral History of Oral History in the UK, British Library.
  11. ^ "History Workshop Centre for London History: An Announcement", History Workshop Journal, 13 (1): 182-183, 1 March 1982. See also "London History Workshop Centre, London", National Archives
  12. ^ Paul Sutton, "The Caribbean Advisory Group: A Memoir", in The Caribbean Journal of International Relations, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2014.
  13. ^ "National Life Stories", British Library.
  14. ^ "Centre Team and Advisory Group", The Raphael Samuel History Centre.
  15. ^ National Life Stories, 'Chamberlain, Mary (1 of 21) National Life Stories Collection: Oral History of Oral History', The British Library Board, 2012. Retrieved 9 October 2017
  16. ^ "An Interview with Mary Chamberlain", Random House Reader's Circle, 14 January 2016.
  17. ^ Ken Keable (ed.), London Recruits: The Secret War Against Apartheid, Pontypool: The Merlin Press, 2012. Mary Chamberlain, "My secret war against Apartheid", The Independent, 8 April 2015. See also London Recruits.