Progression viva, conferences, plane tickets

So, the last month has been very busy with wrapping up my year 1 paperwork and doing a couple of presentations – alongside getting the logistics sorted for my research trip to South Australia.

First was the Breaking Boundaries interdisciplinary humanities and social sciences post-graduate conference at my home institution, Cardiff University. I sent an abstract in to this conference proposing first a presentation and secondly as a poster regarding the different Cornish notions of patriotism in South Australia which I have been working on this year in preparation for my fieldwork. Happily I was invited to give a presentation, so I set about preparing something which was specific enough to be interesting and show what I’m focussing on, but friendly to non-specialists outside my discipline. I had 15 minutes to talk with 5 minutes or so of questions, so I prepared my script and slides, and a musical example. I personally find public speaking a real challenge so I practiced my presentation on my partner and a couple of friends a number of times to check I was within the time limit and it flowed smoothly, and would guide the audience through my topic without losing them. On the day my musical example actually worked! Hurrah! (My musical example didn’t work at the last conference I did; I managed to get a laugh out of it but I was wary of it happening again). Despite the horrendous nerves, mouth going so dry and throat seizing up so much I actually started mispronouncing my words (totally normal for me) once I started speaking I was happy with how I was coming across, and at the end of the presentation the questions were interesting and insightful. Another great feature of the conference was a keynote from anthropologist Kate Fox, who gave a fantastic speech titled ‘Popping The Academic Bubble: Risks and Rewards of Writing for a Popular Audience’. This is worth a blog post all of its own so I’ll get thinking about it!

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Next up was my end of Year 1 progression viva with my supervisor and Director of Postgraduate Studies. Having chatted about it a couple of times with previous PhD students, both in my school and outside it, I was given the impression that having done a fair bit of writing this year that I should be at least on track. However, as ever I did manage to work myself into a bit of a state about it. ‘What if they ask me tough questions about theory and method?’ ‘Should I be armed with numbers of analogous traditions and communities to compare and contrast?’ ‘What if they spring a question on me that takes the legs out from under my research?’ These are all things I was worried about happening. However – in reality it was more like a friendly chat about what I’d done so far and the issues I’d uncovered, and how I saw my research progressing. Not as intimidating as I had convinced myself, but I would always much rather over-prepare than under-prepare (this does result in me spending too much time on simple things which could be dealt with quickly and easily though. Swings and roundabouts).

And finally, yesterday I took part in my School’s own post-graduate study day. This was also a one-day conference with a number of PhD students of various stages giving a paper on their research. There are two of these a year, and it’s compulsory to attend one. I really enjoyed hearing about everyone’s research, from the ancient etymology of lute-naming, to the emancipation of Roma peoples and their role as musicians in Romania, to the changing gender roles in the panegyria, religious and music tradition in Greece (here’s a link to the PG students in my department). I had proposed to talk about a different aspect of my project to the previous conference so it wasn’t simply a case of giving the same speech over again. With the viva and preparing for the research trip I didn’t have much time to prepare a script that I would read word for word, so although I had an iPad with me that I had prompts from, the presentation wasn’t exactly ad-libbed, but I wasn’t reading from notes either. As a result I felt that I used far less formal language than the others; but I think showed what I was doing and managed to answer the questions well enough.

However, the stand-out event of the day was the mock lecturing job interview. A student in the final year of his PhD volunteered to be interviewed by a panel of three lecturers. He had prepared a CV for a recent job advert for a musicology lecturer, which were both handed out to attendees so that we could see how he had responded to the criteria. He left the room while the lecturers took us through the process of how interviews at universities in the UK tend to work and discussed the types of questions which they would ask. He was then called into the room and the interview lasted about 20 minutes, beginning with gentler questions like ‘tell us about how you came to research your subject’ and then more direct questions along the lines of ‘how do you see yourself contributing to REF 2020 in this institution’, ‘how would you implement research-led teaching in your role’, ’what is your understanding of equal opportunities’, and ‘can you outline a dream module you would teach’. After the interview was over, together with the ‘candidate’ and the lecturers we discussed how well he had responded. A lot of key issues coming out; not just in terms of interview technique and presenting your strengths and skills, but also the types of necessary knowledge about the department you’re applying to, their aims and goals and the broader academic environment. If there are any other PGs out there reading this, I highly recommend doing an exercise like this at your own institution if you can find willing lecturers!

And in amongst all that, I *think* I am up to date getting all my forms in to not only my own department but to my funding body so that hopefully they will approve me to continue to the second year. And making sure I have ALL THE THINGS ready for the research trip – passport, plane tickets, visa, driving licence, passport, AV kit, computer, adaptors, passport, correct luggage for the allowance, lists of archive material to look at, passport … you get the picture.

So this probably all reads as either terrifying or tedious – that’s kind of how I view conferences and form-filling respectively – but both are definitely necessary and useful. Comments and feedback all welcome – anyone got experiences of progression vivas or internal conferences to share?

Celtic genes for Cornwall?

My Twitter and Facebook feeds have been awash with comment and reaction to the survey titled ‘The fine scale genetic structure of the population of the British population’ published in the journal Nature last week. The authors examined the DNA profiles of populations in different areas of the UK with a view to identifying historical migrations to the UK from various European locations, and Cornish commentators have picked up on the fact that the results show that the genetic structure of the sampled population in Cornwall clearly differs to the rest of England.

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ABOVE: The genetic map of the UK produced by the survey taken from this BBC article

The study has been heralded as a victory by some, who regard the findings as conclusive proof that the Cornish are not English – with the Western Morning News’ article going so far as to say that this implies that we are ‘breeds apart’. However, the authors of the study also suggest that the genetic profile in Cornwall is actually much closer to groups in Devon and elsewhere in England than to groups in other mainland Celtic regions of the UK. Further, the study indicates that ‘the Celts’ that historically populated the British Isles actually comprise of several distinct genetic groups originating from different parts of Europe, rather than one homogenous group.

The publication has provoked a lot of (occasionally heated) discussion of Cornwall’s Celtic identity and as such the study, and reactions to it, is very interesting for me since I am currently examining how notions and constructions of Celtic Cornwall were used to promote patriotic sentiment towards Cornwall in the late 19th century. For me, this is an extremely tangled web of how concepts of race, language and culture interact with notions of identity.

This study seems to confirm some elements of the idea that the Cornish identity could be built on the idea of a Cornish race. However, I think that we have moved away from the concept of race as a qualifier for Cornish identity, simply because the term is too blunt – and potentially damaging – an instrument to describe a contemporary and diverse group of people who have different perceptions of what Cornish identity is. In my own case, I was born and brought up in Cornwall, but not bred – both my parents are from England who moved to Cornwall independently, met, married and settled there. I describe myself as Cornish because I feel that the place has unquestionably shaped who I am regardless of my parentage; yet genetically, I’m not one of those pink crosses west of the Tamar river.

In terms of linguistic identity, Cornwall’s own language (Cornish or Kernewek) is an important marker of identity. Once you get over the Tamar it’s obvious that place names in Cornwall are very different to those in England. For the growing minority of Cornish speakers, the debate continues to rage about whether, and if so, when, the Cornish language stopped being a spoken vernacular, and which version of the revived language speakers should use. Indeed there is a case that Cornish has never really died as it exists beyond the lifespans of its speakers (past and present) in the landscape. As a counterpoint though, there are plenty of people who would self-identify as Celtic (not just in Cornwall, but all over the UK, Europe and indeed the rest of the world) regardless of whether they speak a Celtic language or not. Who is in a position to deny self-ascribed Celts their claim to their perceived heritage on the basis of their linguistic ability? I’m learning Kernewek Kemmyn, but I don’t see why this would make me any more Cornish, or Celtic, than someone who is Cornish born and bred who doesn’t speak it. In fact in my research, I have come across the interesting alternative opinion that the revival of the Cornish language is a rather sectarian attempt at gaining credibility for a Cornish cultural agenda and simultaneously creates a false cultural elite. For some perhaps, to paraphrase Louis Armstrong, if you have to learn something to be Cornish, you’ll never know.

So, if racial/genetic and linguistic concepts are not necessarily solid foundations on which to claim or build Cornish Celtic identity, what about Celtic culture? Socially, politically, economically, religiously – Cornwall’s culture has obviously changed and developed over the intervening two thousand years since the Celts were in control of the area we now know as Cornwall, reflecting and reacting to broader cultural changes across the UK. So since we’re talking about a contemporary study based on contemporary population samples, what about the average person on a Cornish street or moor or beach? What elements of their culture would they say make them Cornish – and would they say that these are examples of Celtic culture? Does playing Cornish music make you Celtic? How does that music qualify as Celtic? Is singing in a male voice choir Celtic? Is playing rugby Celtic? What about wearing the Cornish tartan, even though it was invented in the 1960s? Are pre-work dawn surfs Celtic? Or do we ‘elect’ these activities as Celtic in our perception?

All these complicating factors make me question why being Celtic such a central and continual concern for Cornwall? Does Cornish identity automatically include or imply Celtic identity? These aren’t supposed to be silly or rhetorical questions; obviously, Cornwall’s Celtic heritage is a massively important part of Cornwall’s history and has informed (and been deployed within) academic and popular debate for hundreds of years. However, I don’t think that being ‘Celtic’ is the outside boundary of Cornish identity. Personally, I regard Cornwall’s Celtic identity as one of many integral components within a complex and evolving culture that extends a long way beyond Cornwall itself.

I suppose this post essentially asks lots of questions about a topic that there are a lot of very solid opinions about, but very few solid answers because they rely on individual perception rather than an universally accepted cultural manifesto. However, by identifying trends in opinion and performance, we can go some way towards understanding what cultural attributes have been important in Cornwall at different times, and what this tells us about how people perceived, performed and valued their Cornish identity.

Comments, questions and feedback all welcome!

Bound for South Australia!

So far I haven’t managed to write much about how I’m actually spending my time in this first year of my PhD. Rather predictably I’m doing a lot of reading, and from what other students have told me, a fair amount of writing for my first year. However in May, I’m bound for South Australia for a two month field and archival research trip! While there were many different mining communities across South Australia and within other Australian colonies, Cornish migrants were particularly concentrated in the northern Yorke Peninsula towns of Kadina, Moonta and Wallaroo – otherwise known as the ‘Copper Triangle’, or ‘Australia’s Little Cornwall’ – and that’s where I’m going at the start of my visit. If you zoom all the way into the map below, you’ll spot some giveaway Cornish street names in the three towns:

In the first month I’ll be going to Kernewek Lowender, a biennial festival of Cornish culture that started in the mid-1970s. I’m really looking forward to this as it’s a gathering for Cornish people not only within Australia, but also from Cornwall itself and across the diaspora. I’ll be doing field research, ie. attending and documenting events, interviewing musicians and performers – but I’ll also be visiting museums and heritage centres. By combining lots of different data and documentation, I’ll be able to build up a real sense of how Cornish music, identity and community was perceived and performed here. The second month I’ll be in Adelaide, spending time at the state archives, libraries and even more museums.

To prepare, I’ve been researching the Cornish in South Australia, when they arrived and where they went, and what they did when they got here. I’ve also been looking at how Cornish identity has been expressed and performed over the past 150 years. The Cornish Association of South Australia – the oldest Cornish Association in the world! – is a particularly interesting group for me; formed in 1890, the group was originally for ‘Cornishmen and Sons of Cornishmen’ – but now membership is open not only to people born in Cornwall, but anyone who has an interest or love of Cornwall, or who is a Cornish speaker. The CASA continues to be active in Kernewek Lowender and I’m looking forward to meeting their secretary, Noel Carthew, who I’ve been in email contact with about this PhD for a long time now.

I suddenly thought I should write this post after hearing ‘Bound For South Australia’ a popular shanty, sung by the Oggymen at Kernow in the City – very apt, since I’d just had the news that this research trip was definitely going ahead!

This version is by the Fisherman’s Friends, Port Isaac’s famous shanty group. From what I can tell, there’s not a particularly Cornish – or South Australian – historical link to this song. However, you hear it in pubs around Cornwall; perhaps it’s popular with Cornish singers because Cornish migrants flocked to South Australia after big copper discoveries in the colony, and we’ve come to associate the two.

I have my nerves, but I’m also very excited. It’s amazing that almost as far away from Cornwall as it’s possible to get, Cornish heritage is still important and it’s still being celebrated! While I was at Kernow in the City the other week one of the performers said ‘you’re all Cousin Jacks up here’ – and it actually made me realise that since I’m involving myself in a diasporic community in London, this fieldwork trip isn’t such a leap from what I’m doing now. It was amazing to hear ‘Bound For South Australia’ live – it was the first time I’d made the link between the song and my own trip. So I suppose in a sense, I’m following in the footsteps of Cornish migrants a hundred and fifty years and more ago, although I’m searching for the music of the Cornish themselves, not copper.

So – that’s my exciting upcoming trip. I’d love to hear from anyone who has been out to KL or who have visited other Cornish communities overseas! And I’d also love to hear from researchers (in any field) who have undertaken field and archive research trips in Australia or other international destinations – how did you decide where to go, and how long for? What did your research involve?