Mysticism, Myth and 'Celtic' Nationalism: A Case Study of Cornwall

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: English

Abstract

Myths of haunted localities figure prominently in canonical literature and popular culture. Our project will explore how, through stories of such places, notions of the past influence current debates about nationhood, locality and ethnicity in modern Britain.

The project will adopt a broad interpretation of what it means for a place to be 'haunted' - one that allows for many kinds of feelings and ideas about how the past inhabits the present. We will analyse both oral traditions and written texts, taking Cornwall as our initial focus from 1800 to the present. By asking specific questions in relation to a specific region we aim to deepen our understanding of the relationships between past, present, and place and how they influence people's conceptions of their own identity and locality.

Cornwall offers an excellent example of a 'haunted' location, whose mythologised past is bound up with cultural, economic and political factors. Its hauntedness is sold to tourists, for example, as the tourism website Cornwall Calling indicates: ''There is a wealth of folk lore about piskies and giants that roamed Cornwall in the past. The legendary King Arthur is said to have had his Camelot at Tintagel...' (http://www.cornwall-calling.co.uk/whycome.htm).

Although tin and copper mining ensured that Cornwall played a prominent role during Britain's Industrial Revolution, its subsequent dependence on tourism, combined with the emergence of an essentially antiquarian 'Celtic Revivalist' movement, meant that memory and remembrance took on great significance in cultural constructions of place. Significantly, the 'spirit' of legendary and historical figures, such as the prehistoric 'Celts', King Arthur and Myghal Josef An Gof (the leader of the 1497 Cornish rebellion) has been resurrected to serve the changing needs of the present. This is intimately connected with perceptions of Cornwall as un-English, 'Celtic' and 'different'.

Our project will examine this specific locality and literary and oral narratives of its politicised hauntings in the context of wider British and 'Celtic' studies. These studies, including ours, are extremely topical because of the recent upsurge of nationalism in the UK - a trend exemplified by the Scottish elections of 2007. Our project's immediate results will be: two books on the national and specifically Cornish picture, including the selected proceedings of a conference attended by both academics and members of the public; two journal articles; an exhibition; an archive of oral history recordings open to the public; and a longer-term book project on myths of the British past.

Publications

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Gibson (2014) Melting the Ice Gods: in Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural

 
Title Mysticism, Myth, Nationalism, location 1 
Description An exhibition of paintings loaned by the National Trust, archival materials from the University of Exeter, excerpts from project oral history recordings, and photographs. The exhibition began at the Penryn Campus, before moving to the Cornwall CEntre, Redruth (next entry) 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2010 
Impact A large collection of paintings by Ithell Colquhoun was examined at Lanhydrock House (NT) and six works were conserved and framed for the exhibition. 
 
Title Mysticism, Myth, Nationalism, location 2 
Description The exhibition travelled to the Cornwall Centre, Redruth 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2010 
Impact As for previous entry 
 
Description The award enabled the research team to explore aspects of Cornish and Celtic identity as related to identity-politics, lifestyle and tourism in Cornwall, and the representation of Cornwall internally and externally. Using interviews (e.g. with visitors to key attractions) and library and archive work, it was demonstrated that Cornwall's representation as a place of myth and mysticism is important to its tourism industry, and has been since the earliest guides to Cornwall were written. It is also important to local people: feeling Cornish or Celtic is frequently linked with a commitment to Cornish mythic history and antiquities (e.g. standing stones, Arthurian sites) however far these may appear to be divorced from the economic and industrial base of the area (e.g. mining, retail, etc). Intangible cultural perceptions of Cornwall's heritage appear to have a cash value, in the creative economy and tourist industry, that should be further studied and ideally quantified.

All the objectives of the award were met and the project team recommend the published works stemming from the award to readers (local, national and international) who wish to explore Cornwall as a case study in the importance of myth and mysticism in British cultural history (for example, in neo-pagan cultural reinventions, Romantic and later poetry and fiction, local custom etc) .
Exploitation Route Local policymakers can use our findings to help them understand and demonstrate the importance of intangible cultural heritage.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description As material for TV and radio programming: Tony Robinson's Gods and Monsters (Channel 4/National Geographic, autumn 2011), and Radio 4's Open Book with Mariella Frostrup and Patrick Gale (August 2013).
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Title Archive of 60 oral history interviews housed at the Cornish Audio Visual Archive 
Description Oral history interviews for use by researchers 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact None yet, but the archive awaits intensive study 
 
Description Amy Hale, public talk on Ithell Colquhoun, at 'Mysticism, Myth, Nationalism exhibition 23.07.10 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Discussion and the stimulation of interest in Ithell Colquhoun

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Gibson and Tregidga, Public talk at Tremough Campus Culture Festival, 21 May 2011 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Q and A with the audience led to discussion of project themes

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Gibson, National Trust talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Discussion after this paper at Trelissick House (NT) focussed on project themes as embodied in Gibson's article 'Wicker Men and Straw Dogs' on which this paper was based.

None to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Gibson, Nine Worlds London Geekfest talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Discussion of the talk, given at the Renaissance Hotel, Heathrow as part of the Geekfest, focussed on project themes as embodied in Gibson's article 'Wicker Men and Straw Dogs' on which the paper was based.

Invited back to the Geekfest but unable to attend this year (2014).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Gibson, Pagan Federation talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Lengthy discussion of project themes and findings related to Gibson's book Imagining the Pagan Past.

Follow-up requests for further involvement including invited conference paper at the Witchcraft Museum, Boscastle, in 2015.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Gibson, Public talk at du Maurier festival, 17 May 2011 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Q and A session led to discussion of the project themes and elicited experiences from audience which contributed to Gibson's ongoing research

Continuing public engagement with literary festival audiences and other local clubs/societies
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Gibson, U3A talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Discussion after the paper, given to the Torbay branch of U3A, was focussed on themes from the project as embodied in Gibson's article 'Wicker Men and Straw Dogs' on which the paper was based.

None to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Gibson, interview about 'mummified' cats as apotropaic magical deposits, BBC 1 Spotlight South West, 21 April 2009 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Ongoing contacts from heritage organisations and members of the public following up discoveries of apotropaic deposits.

I have now become regarded as an authority on the subject, as continuing enquiries demonstrate.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Gibson, interview in Cornwall Today article, January 2009 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Journalists maintained contact throughout the project.

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Gibson, interview, BBC Radio Devon, 29 October 2009 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview was followed by phone in for the radio show.

None.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Gibson, opinion piece in The Western Morning News, 30 November 2009 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact None known

none
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Gibson, participation in Open Book 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC Radio 4 programme, broadcast in August 2013, elicited the following statement from producer Hilary Dunn: We are very happy with the programme and hope you will be too - and once again many, many thanks for being such a brilliant interviewee.

None to date
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Gibson, participation in Tony Robinson's Gods and Monsters 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Participation in 2 episodes of this TV series resulted in the following impact testimony from director Matthew Wortman: The only thing I care about is historical accuracy and connecting an audience to the emotional core of a subject matter and Marion was key in driving those scenes towards a powerful conclusion. I would have no hesitation in looking to work with Marion again and I'm grateful to her for... helping produce a brilliant sequence. PS The sequence has been promoted as the key episode in the film.


As above
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Gibson, public talk Lowender Peran Festival, 16 October 2009 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact None known

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Readings and talks by Fal Publications authors including Penelope Shuttle, 23 July 2010 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Post-talk discussions; impact statement received from Fal Publications.

Impact statement from Fal Publications suggested that the presentation 'felt like an appropriate and happy meeting between the University and a local cultural industry'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Tregidga , Radio St Austell Bay interview, 5 May 2010 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact None known

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Tregidga, 'Cultural Memory and Cornish Nationalism', EXCEPS/Institute of Cornish Studies seminar 17.06.09 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Discussion contributed to Tregidga's ongoing research

Tregidga's publications
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Tregidga, Public talk, Lowender Peran festival 16 October 2009 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Tregidga has an ongoing association with this growing Cornish festival

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Tregidga, Radio Penwith, 4 April 2010 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact None known

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Trower, 'Haunted Cornwall: Granite and Ghost Stories', paper at Gothic Locations conference, Cardiff University, 19 September 2008 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Paper and discussion contributed to Trower's publications.

Trower's publications
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008
 
Description Trower, guided walk and public talk 9 May 2009 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact None known

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Trower, organisation of workshop, Haunted Cornwall: Granite and Ghost Stories' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Discussion and ongoing participation by the attendees in university-based outreach activities

As above
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010