Sunday, 19 June 2016

Chronicles in Medieval Wales and its Neighbours

Rebecca Thomas writes:

On the 25–26 May the Welsh Chronicles Research Group hosted a two-day conference at Cambridge on ‘Chronicles in Medieval Wales and its Neighbours’. The conference, organised by myself, Ben Guy (ASNC), Georgia Henley (Harvard; matric. MPhil ASNC 2010), and Dr Owain Wyn Jones (Bangor; matric. BA ASNC 2006), brought together scholars from a wide range of international institutions to share and discuss recent research on medieval chronicles. Whilst the research group is focused primarily on the study of chronicles from medieval Wales, we also invited specialists working on chronicles from Ireland, Scotland, and England, in order to facilitate wider and more comparative discussion. The Welsh Chronicles Research Group has previously organised two symposia (Bangor 2014 and Glasgow 2015), but this was our largest event to date, and proved to be an exciting and stimulating two days. 
The first day of the conference, held at the English Faculty, opened with a session focused on the early medieval period, with papers by Dr Nicholas Evans (University of Hull) on the Annals of Ulster, Dr Roy Flechner (UCD) on Chronicles and Canon Law, and myself on Asser’s use of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Discussion continued through the coffee break before the next session turned to a later period, with Dr Joshua Byron Smith (University of Arkansaw) discussing the Welsh material that Gregory of Caerwent incorporated into his chronicle and Ben Guy presenting on Brut Ieuan Brechfa, an early Tudor version of Brut y Tywysogyon, examining Ieuan Brechfa’s adaptation of the Brut and how it related to other versions. The session was brought to a close with something a bit different as we welcomed Scott Lloyd from the ‘Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales’, who gave us a presentation on the Battlefields Inventory, a project attempting to map the locations of all recorded battles in Wales. 
After lunch we were delighted to welcome J. Beverley Smith, Professor Emeritus in Welsh History at Aberystwyth University, to give the keynote lecture. Professor Smith gave a masterful analysis of Vita Griffini filii Conani (a text discovered and edited by ASNC's Professor Paul Russell), in which he drew attention particularly to the text's classical models and also to the problems of identifying later accretions present in both the Latin and Welsh versions. Observations concerning the latter led him to suggest an alternative date and context for the composition of the Vita.
The day was brought to a close with a session on chronicles in medieval Scotland. Professor Dauvit Broun (University of Glasgow) used the Chronicle of Melrose as a case study to present an exciting new approach to the study of chronicles, whilst Dr John Reuben Davies (University of Glasgow), also focusing on the Chronicle of Melrose, examined its thirteenth-century sources. Dr Owain Wyn Jones (Bangor University) had the final word of the day with a presentation on the website of the Welsh Chronicles Research Group, which provides summaries of various medieval chronicles (including bibliographical detail) as well as recent editions of certain important texts.
Dr Owain Wyn Jones presenting on the website of the Welsh Chronicles Research Group

As the first day came to an end we could reflect on what had been a wonderful day of papers and debate, and the discussion continued over the conference dinner at La Margherita, and well into the night thereafter. We still had much to look forward to however, with two sessions taking place on Thursday morning, this time held in the Divinity School of St John’s College. Dr David Stephenson (Bangor University) started proceedings with a paper exploring annalistic references to events in southern Powys in the late-twelfth century, before Henry Gough-Cooper (independent scholar) talked to us about the textual relationships between versions of the ‘Annales Cambriae’ group of Welsh Latin Chronicles. ASNC’s own Professor Paul Russell closed the session with a paper on the Latin rhetoric of Chronica de Wallia, examining its similarities to a Welsh marwnad. 
The final session opened with a paper by Georgia Henley (Harvard), drawing on her work editing the ‘Cardiff Annals’, and assessing their relationship with the annals of Tewksbury, followed by an examination of the Annála Gearra as Proibhinse Ard Macha by Dr Denis Casey (National University of Ireland, Maynooth), with some interesting food for thought on the construction of chronology in the text. Bringing proceedings to a close, Professor Chris Given-Wilson (University of St Andrew’s) took us forward to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with his examination of Adam Usk’s attitude towards the Welsh. 
There was general agreement that the conference had been a productive affair, and had sparked exciting debate and discussion. We were not the only ones who thought the conference to be exciting however. A press release on the event by St John’s College caught the attention of BBC Wales, who expressed a keen interest in learning more about Welsh Chronicles. This was how I found myself wearing headphones and sitting in front of a microphone at the BBC Cambridgeshire studio at 7.45am on the first morning of the conference. ‘Good Morning Wales’ (BBC Wales), and ‘Post Cyntaf’ (Radio Cymru) took it in turns to pose a series of questions about Welsh Chronicles, the direction of our research, and medieval Wales more generally. The idea of chronicles as a medium for recording events and sharing news caught the imagination of ‘Good Morning Wales’, with the presenter comparing the medieval chronicle to a modern-day smartphone! 
The media attention didn’t end with the radio however, and BBC Wales subsequently produced an article on the conference (‘Delving into the Welsh Dark Ages’), which can be accessed here:
Further information on the conference, future news and events, as well as information on medieval Welsh chronicles more generally (including selected editions), can be found on our website:

Monday, 23 May 2016

Modern Irish in Easter Term, 2016

Screening of Irish language film by Loïc Jourdain: I mBéal na Stoirme / A Turning Tide in the Life of Man (Lugh Films, Co. Donegal

Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson writes

On 28 April the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic hosted French independent film-maker, Loïc Jourdain, who screened his most recent Irish-language documentary I mBéal na Stoirme / A Turning Tide in the Life of Man ( The film recently won the prestigious Prix CIRCOM 2016 for the best documentary:

John O'Brien, Inisbofin fisherman (photo published with the permission of Loic Jourdain)

Jourdain, a native of Brittany who is living in Ireland, has produced a number of Donegal centered documentaries, several of which explore the challenges faced by small coastal and island communities in Ireland and further afield in Europe.  Filmed over a period of eight years, A Turning Tide in the Life of Man follows the journey of one fisherman from the Irish-speaking island of Inis Bó Finne, John O’Brien, who campaigns on behalf of the islanders (and minoritised fishing communities across the EU more broadly) to regain rights to the traditional catch.  Jourdain's multi-layered film considers the impact of EU-level environmental management policies on this small-scale Irish-speaking fishing community; it also depicts the vulnerability of this and many other coastal fishing communities throughout Europe.

Jourdain follows O'Brien as he confronts shrinking access to the seas and a diminished livelihood for himself, his family and fellow islanders. The film moves seamlessly from Inis Bó Finne to Brussels, tracing the long process of gathering support from other island communities across Europe.  O'Brien's meetings with politicians, crushing disappointments and small victories are juxtaposed to scenes of local rituals and festivities, which reveal the deep cultural links between distant islands.  Nothing is 'staged', giving the film a moment to moment pace and poignant human authenticity.  The camera captures the natural beauty of Inis Bó Finne in beautifully textured and subtle visual images, but does not disguise the harsher realities.  The viewer is drawn into O'Brien's long, hard journey—the flights, trains, phone conversations, heated debates—and finally, into the corridors of the European Parliament and Commission.  One is aware of the passage of time and seeming endless political hurdles. And yet the overall effect is not that of an unbridgeable gulf between Inis Bó Finne and Brussels, but rather one of a real human encounter.  Joudain's film puts a face on the diverse, multi-lingual exchanges in Brussels, where John O'Brien speaks in the European Parliament and challenges EU fishing policies.  Finally, what emerges is a sense of the interconnection of all communities, large and small, as we collectively face the depletion of our natural resources and the rupture of our richly diverse linguistic and cultural communities.

Dinner following film screening:
Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson (ASNC), Kristoff Wright (MPhil, Comparative Literature), Julia Modern (Trinity College), Ian Ostericher (St. John's College); front Loic Jourdain,  Natalie  Morningstar (Trinity Hall).

The event was attended by a large audience of students, faculty and members of the Cambridge community.  Joudain's remarks during the engaging Q&A session provided further insight into the film project and the challenging issues it confronts.  Jourdain's account of his own personal experience of free and open access to filming during EU sessions was particularly timely, and affirmed the opportunities for disagreement, debate and collaboration within the European community. A member of the audience who has been involved in European Union politics and human rights praised Jourdain's work: 'The film was outstanding and has stayed with me since. I wish hundreds more could have seen it.  It is a beautiful and powerful observation of how politics work at international, national, community and personal levels, and how inspiring the actions of one person joining with others can still be'.  Similarly, a Cambridge student from Northern Ireland remarked: 'Films like these open up our perspectives, raising awareness of our place within the patchwork quilt of European nations and cultures, with all the benefits that such co-operation can bring.' 

Filmmaker Loic Jourdain and Cambridge PhD student Natalie Morningstar

Thanks are extended especially to Cambridge PhD student (Anthropology) Natalie Morningstar, a student in the ASNC Modern Irish language classes and recent recipient of the H.M. Chadwick Scholarship to support her study of Irish in Donegal. Morningstar, who is researching Irish-language multimedia and the politics of resource management, met Jourdain and proposed a screening of the film at Cambridge University.  Her generous time and efforts in preparing for Jourdain's visit, and her collaborative work with Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson (Teaching Associate in Modern Irish) in organizing the event, is greatly appreciated.  Our thanks are also extended to Gavin McHugh for his technical expertise at the screening and Jen Pollard for her advice during preparations.  The event was generously supported by the Cambridge Group for Irish Studies (Magdalene College). The group's secretary, Conor Leahy, offered helpful assistance, and Professor Máire Ní Mhaonaigh and St. John's College provided generous hospitality.  Most especially, we thank Loïc Jourdain for bringing this thoughtful and thought-provoking film to Cambridge University.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

1016, England and the Wider World

Rebecca Thomas and Albert Fenton write

On Saturday the 16th of April the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic played host to a conference commemorating the death of Æthelred ‘the Unready’ in its final addition to a series of anniversary conferences. ‘1016, England and the Wider World’ was the third instalment in the successful ‘Writing History: Battles and the Shaping of the North Atlantic World’ series which saw conferences commemorating the Battle of Clontarf in 2014 and Cnut’s re-invasion of England in 2015.

An exciting day of papers opened with a key-note lecture by ASNC’s Professor Simon Keynes, who re-examined Æthelred’s reputation, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to depictions of the payment of the infamous ‘Danegeld’ and the ‘Massacre of St Brice’s Day’ by turn-of-the-century artists.

 (Æthelred II paying tribute to the Vikings; from Hutchinson's Story of the British Nations from the early 1920s)

There was some opportunity to further consider whether Æthelred has been unfairly treated by historians over coffee, before we were presented with a session on ‘Greater Britain’. Dr Alex Woolf (University of St Andrews) provided an exhaustive account of the evidence for Cnut's connections to the kingdom of the Scots and the House of Bamburgh, whilst Dr Caroline Brett (ASNC) explored the political make-up of Brittany in the tenth and eleventh centuries, using the evidence of charters, chronicles and narrative sources to assess the Breton's contribution to the so-called 'feudal revolution'.

For the afternoon we turned our attention to the ‘wider world’, with ASNC’s Dr Elizabeth Rowe exploring the domestic politics of Denmark in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, focusing on Harald Bluetooth’s reign, kingship, and the nature of his overlordship. Dr Levi Roach (University of Exeter) brought the session to an end, placing Æthelred’s reign in context, and exploring a range of fascinating links and comparisons with his Continental counterparts.

All three of the conferences in the series invited a speaker to discuss a more recent anniversary, succeeding in drawing some interesting parallels and contrasts in methods of commemoration, and placing our own conferences in a wider context. In the final instalment we were treated to a discussion of the battles of the First World War by Professor Robert Tombs, a historian of modern France (University of Cambridge), as he examined the changing memory of the war, and the mediums through which it was expressed. This second key-note lecture was a fitting end to a day of papers which brought together different methods and approaches in an attempt to cast further light upon the events of a thousand years previously.  

Old Norse Postgraduate Symposium in Bergen

Jonathan Hui writes

The 10th Bergen-UK Old Norse Postgraduate Symposium was held in Bergen, Norway, between Tuesday 12th and Saturday 16th April 2016. The symposium featured thirty-one graduate speakers from eight universities across three busy days, with papers spanning a range of disciplines, including archaeology, history, religion, literature and linguistics. 

Led by Dr Judy Quinn and Dr Brittany Schorn, seven ASNC graduate students travelled to Bergen to participate in the symposium. On a first day which began with Professor Else Mundal's opening keynote lecture on knowledge in the poems of the Poetic Edda, two ASNC papers followed in the mythological vein: Amelia Herridge Ishak analysed the terminology used in the construction of mythological place-names, before Tom Grant offered a fascinating interpretation of the tenth-century skaldic poem Þórsdrápa

On Thursday, my paper on the localised legends underlying Bósa saga was followed by Katherine Olley's wide-ranging exploration of the dynamics of uncle-nephew relations in legendary poems and sagas, before Caitlin Ellis' examination of the historical factors behind the youthful exploits of Norwegian kings ended both the day and a delightfully cohesive session on representations of age. Friday saw Francesco Colombo combine textual and literary evidence to challenge some of the common editorial assumptions about Reginsmál and Fáfnismál, while Ben Allport employed statistical analysis to examine the usage of terms for Norwegian regional identities in Heimskringla

After three full days, all that remained was to enjoy the excursion day in the Bergen sunshine, with visits to Gamle Bergen, the Fisheries and Hanseatic Museums and Mount Fløyen rounding off a productive and enjoyable trip. A final word of thanks must go to Dr Jens Eike Schnall and Dr Helen Leslie-Jacobsen for their hard work and hospitality in organising the symposium.