Friday 15 August 2014

The Welsh Chronicles: A Symposium

From ASNC graduate student and symposium organiser Ben Guy:

On Saturday 9th August, Bangor University hosted the first of what will hopefully be a series of small symposia dedicated to the study of the numerous chronicles written in Wales during the Middle Ages. As is the case with so many attempts to further the ASNC cause, the idea for the symposium was conceived in the back seat of a car that had recently escaped from the international medievalist conference at Kalamazoo, during a conversation between myself and Owain Wyn Jones (former ASNC, latterly a member of Bangor’s history department). We were both struck by the quality and quantity of recent work on Wales’s medieval chronicles, and decided that it might be useful for the perpetrators to meet one another and discuss the state of the field. We teamed up with Georgia Henley (another former ASNC, currently undertaking a PhD in Harvard’s Celtic department) and set about creating a programme that would showcase new approaches to the whole range of extant chronicles produced in medieval Wales.

The result was an outstanding day of papers and discussion that bore a great deal of intellectual fruit. Alongside the three organisers, speakers included David Stephenson, Barry Lewis and Henry Gough-Cooper. The sessions divided themselves neatly into three groups: Latin chronicles, both early and late; vernacular chronicles, both well-known and rarely-read; and new editions, all sorely needed. The presentations covered a wide range of topics, including textual history, historiography, editing and the tribulations of those embroiled with certain publishing houses. David Stephenson opened the floor with a masterly discussion about the trickiest section of the Annales Cambiae B-text, the section for 1204–1230. He was followed by my (rather less masterly) talk on the sources of the tenth-century St David’s chronicle. Barry Lewis then enlightened the group with his discovery of a probable textual connection between the chronicle Brenhinoedd y Saeson and Bonedd y Saint, a genealogical text concerned with the saints of Wales. Owain Wyn Jones discussed the little-known vernacular chronicle Brut y Saeson, suggesting in particular the cultural milieu for which the text was constructed in the late fourteenth century. Finally, we were indulged by Henry Gough-Cooper with details about his forthcoming editions of the Breviate and Cottonian chronicles (the erstwhile Annales Cambriae B- and C-texts) and by Georgia Henley with a similarly exciting glimpse of her forthcoming edition of Chronica ante aduentum Christi. Proceedings ran smoothly from the start to the terminus ante quem of 4:30pm, aided especially by the generosity of Bangor University’s School of History, who kindly provided the day’s lunch and refreshments.

Perhaps the most useful part of the day was the hour’s discussion session held at the end. In addition to a detailed (and minuted - thanks Myriah!) discourse on the nitty-gritty of chronicle study, a conversation about the future of the symposium group took place in which it was decided that the group should continue and seek to make its endeavours available to a wider audience. We are thus looking into the possibility of starting a website in which can be deposited the various scholarly resources produced by the group, from the definitive lists of Latin and vernacular chronicles and their editions circulated at the event to new editions of the chronicle texts themselves. It was also suggested that further symposia with the same premise should be organised for the future, Glasgow being mooted as a possible venue for next year in order that the event may take place in conjunction with the 2015 International Celtic Congress. At that event we would hope to hear updates from those who spoke at the last symposium in addition to new ideas from new participants – so put your chronicle thinking-cap on and gird your annalistic belt, and please get in touch!

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