Next week sees the Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers take place at the University of Exeter. This is the conference where the leading Geographers from around the globe meet for four days every year to debate, discuss and present research on the most important contemporary matters in the field of Geography.
This year I am incredibly proud to be chairing a session on Thursday 3rd September entitled The Contemporary Growth of Regional Identity in Europe which covers many areas of vital importance to Cornwall, and the field of Cornish History, Heritage, Culture and Identity. Of the seven papers being presented during the session, four relate directly to Cornwall.
Entitled Aspiration for One and All? Andrew Climo from the University of Oxford will present a paper about the Cornish devolution issue, discussing the fact that up to the late 1990s, calls for Cornish devolution were inchoate, but in 2002, the Cornish Constitutional Convention published its prospectus called Devolution for One and All, which acted as a nexus for the various competing views on future governance. He will argue that there is now some consensus as to what it means for Cornwall in terms of the mechanics of devolution, but there is cynicism with politicians in Cornwall being seen as distant and self-serving as those in Westminster. If there were to be a new blueprint for Cornwall to rebuild a devolution consensus, perhaps it should be entitled Aspiration for One and All. This paper discusses what such a document might look like and how public engagement might be developed.
Julie Tamblin of ‘Learn Cornish in Cornwall’ will then present a celebratory and affirmative session, entitled A Feast of Cornish Culture where the voices of our writers, both female and male will be heard expressing Cornish distinctiveness across a range of literary forms, as a timeline of Cornish literature from the earliest texts to the present day. The historical overview includes work in the three linguistic forms which characterize Cornish culture – Kernowek, Cornu-English and English. Connections will also be made between voices from Cornwall and Cornish voices writing back from the diaspora, showing the global influence of Cornish culture.
Mike Tripp of the Institute of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter will be presenting some of his excellent research on Cornish Wrestling, with a paper entitled ‘Where there were two Cornishmen, there was a “rastle”: Cornish Wrestling & Identity’. Dr. Tripp’s paper covers how the origins of Cornish wrestling are unknown, but what is certain is that it has existed for centuries and is arguably Cornwall’s oldest and longest surviving sport. By the beginning of the eighteenth century it was a widespread ‘traditional’ activity, deeply rooted in the local culture and was Cornwall’s most popular sport. It reached the height of its popularity during the first few decades of the nineteenth century. During the second half of the nineteenth century the Cornish economy based on metal mining suffered a catastrophic collapse that precipitated large numbers of people to leave Cornwall to find work abroad. Wherever the Cornish went they stuck together in distinct ethnic communities sustaining a strong sense of identity, based on industrial pride and prowess. This manifested in features such as Methodist chapels and choirs, brass bands, self-help societies, the distinctive foods of pasties and saffron cake, and the Cornish dialect. To this list should be added Cornish wrestling, which played a part in sustaining and maintaining Cornish identity in places such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.
Finally, and very timely given the recent publication of his new book, Golden Tree Production’s Will Coleman will present a paper entitled ‘Plen an Gwari: places of Play, Inclusivity and Resistance’. In this work, Coleman will examine how in many places and cultures throughout history, Performance has been used to articulate and strengthen the aspirations of minorities and to represent narratives resistant to dominant cultures. Driven by the ‘powerhouse’ of Glasney College, the Gwari Meur culture of medieval Cornwall flourished for several hundred years and reached profound levels of artistry in its drama and literature. Related forms also developed elsewhere across Europe but ‘Cornwall was to do it better, and more intensively, than anywhere else’ (Kent, 2010). Rather than sat passively around the sides, we now believe that the audience thronged through the whole plen an gwari space ‘on the hoof’. With artfully constructed scenery, costumes and props, massed chorus, live animals, guns etc, a Gwari Meur would have been an epic, immersive active experience. The argument is made that this plen an gwari form of staging lends itself to generating exactly the degree of intimacy, inclusivity and focus to allow the profoundly transformative process of theatre to happen. The Gwari Meur culture was also deliberately Cornish; ‘The performance of the miracle plays was a vital part of that strategy of resistance [… to Anglicization]’ (Spriggs, 2004). It was international in its outlook yet intensely parochial in celebrating its sense of place. It was rebellious, unorthodox, irreverent, profound and a lot of fun. As a cultural totem the plen an gwari is the perfect foundation for us as we rebuild our inclusive, forward-looking and celebratory sense of Cornish nationhood.
Alongside these discussions on Cornwall will be papers from Dr. Klaus Nagel from Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona on ‘Language and the Independentist Turn of Catalan Nationalism’, Dr. Fabrizio Eva from the University of Venice with a discussion on ‘Controversial Autonomist Dynamics in Northern Italy: Veneto Inside or Outside the so-called Padania?’ and a performance of Northern (England) Poetry from Verity Agababian of Campaign for the North.
The session, which will run from 11:10am – 12:50pm in Peter Chalk Room 1.4, is guaranteed to be a fascinating examination of European Regional Identity where Cornish needs and sense of ‘difference’ can be examined alongside other important areas of Europe which are, like the Cornish, pushing for greater autonomy.