AHRC Kluge Fellowship at the Library of Congress

Well – again, it’s terrible looking at this blog and how little I’ve updated it over the past year. But it has been because I’m busily working away and not because I can’t think of anything to write. So I’m continuing the blog catch-up! This time two months ago I was newly  arrived in Washinton DC, amazed at the snow (I got here the week after Snowpocalypse 2016) getting over the jet-lag before my first day of a five month AHRC Fellow at the Kluge Center in the Library of Congress.

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This has been a long time in the making. I first heard of the scheme in the first semester of my PhD through a lecturer in my department, who simply forwarded on an email to a group of PhD students publicising an open day about it in London. At first glance I wasn’t sure if I’d be interested in going to it – I’d only just started after all, and was just getting back into studying after a break of three years. However, when I read more about what the scheme offered I realised what a fantastic opportunity it was, I booked a spot on the open day so that I could hear from AHRC representatives and past Fellows. I made the application deadline in January 2015 and at the start of July, got the good news that my application had been selected while I was away on field research in Australia. I couldn’t believe it and had to wait for hours to be able to tell my partner and family as I didn’t want to ring and wake them in the middle of the night!

The AHRC’s scheme offers placements of between two and six months at different institutions across the USA, China and Japan (the ESRC has a similar scheme but its placements are all at the Library of Congress). I applied for a placement at the Library of Congress, primarily because the American Folklife Center there holds unique collections of recordings and associated material of great value to my work on the Cornish in the USA – I simply can’t access this material anywhere else.  The surrounding materials in Historic Newspaper, Recorded Sound and Performing Arts Reading Rooms are also mines of information which I’ll be digging into during my time here.

So after months of anticipation, I’m now settled into my residency is in the Kluge Center. In terms of numbers, there are fifteen or so AHRC/ESRC PhD fellows, twelve Kluge Fellows, and the current Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Professor Peter Brooks of Princeton. We each have a little office or ‘Klubicle’ (I didn’t come up with this but I wish I had) that we can order books to. As part of my residency here I have to give a Work In Progress talk about my project and specifically what I’ve been doing at the Library. These usually happen about two thirds of the way through a residency, so that there’s time to follow up on any feedback – I imagine that I’ll be scheduling mine in late April or early June. This is in front of the other students, Fellows, staff in the Center, and any Reading Room staff you want to invite. Having seen two WIPs from current scholars they seem fairly informal in terms of how the presentation occurs, but since you’re surrounded by extremely sharp academics with wildly different fields of expertise, the questions are what to look out for!

I’ll be posting more about what I’m actually doing my with Fellowship soon – but in the meantime you can find out more about the AHRC’s International Placement Scheme here, and check the #ahrcips hashtag for tweets from current and past Fellows. I’ve also written a blog post about this for my department in Cardiff, which you can read here.

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?