'The snows of yesteryear: narrating extreme weather'

Lead Research Organisation: University of Wales
Department Name: Centre for Adv. Welsh and Celtic Studies

Abstract

The principal objective of ‘The snows of yesteryear: narrating extreme weather’ is to reveal and relate past experiences, both historical and more recent, as ways of understanding and coping with phenomena increasingly regarded as markers of climate change. It will explore ways that these events are remembered and mythologised, and interpret what is ultimately learned from them as both warning and opportunity.

The project builds on the work developed by the AHRC “Historic Weather” Network, by continuing to scope and assess arts and humanities documentary and narrative primary source materials and demonstrate their value for research of historic weather and climate. It draws into collaboration the Network Co-I Prof Lorna Hughes (now University of Wales) and Prof Mike Pearson (Aberystwyth University) as award holder in the ‘Landscape and Environment’ programme. The project will focus on archival collections in the National Library of Wales (NLW), a legal deposit library.
The project’s aims are:
• To research accounts of extreme weather events, specifically regional and national experiences of harsh winters, as they are recorded in journals, dairies and literary and art works including narratives, poetry, novels, paintings and other visualisations, especially accounts related to extreme events, for example the 1703 “Great Storm”; and as they are described from living memory, via interviews and web input. It focuses upon experiences in relation to particular sets of historical, social, cultural and environmental circumstance and tradition: of rural communities in Wales and their records – from medieval Welsh poetry to contemporary regional broadcast news.
• To research, devise and encourage creative approaches to the exposition of such data from a variety of sources to provide an historical context and understanding of ways that communities have experienced, responded to and survived extreme events through resilience and adaptability.
Through this it will draw upon and inform perceptions and discourse, and may inform policy decisions with regard to resilience and adaptability in face of extreme weather in rural contexts.

The project involves two strands of enquiry:
• scholarly research to identify and prepare potential material for exposition: from library and other archival sources, in collaboration with the NLW, climate scientists from the International ACRE (Atmospheric Reconstructions of the Earth) project at the Met Office, and historic weather researchers. Archival reserach will explore the ways in which extreme winters have been represented and depicted in a wide range of cultural texts and media. This will be augmented by web-based community fieldwork including interviews with local people, historians, geographers and meteorologists, to gather experiences, memories and emotions.
• practice-led research to devise appropriate modes of public exposition to engage audiences: as live performance and through on-line platforms.

We will use digital arts and humanities methods and approaches for selection and digital representation of material collected by the project. The ordering and exposition of material will also follow principles of dramaturgical organization of content, highlighting ‘performative’ aspects of the content. This will also demonstrate the impact of “thinking digitally” on performance development and narrative.

It will result in:
• the creation of a live performance to be presented locally and nationally, with a premiere in the National Library of Wales in early 2013. This will evoke past events and immediate responses to them: of both trauma and resilience.
• the creation of a sustainable website: with a record of research materials; as the further creative exposition of assembled materials; as an interactive facility for the deposit of experiences of extreme weather, encouraging public engagement
• a summative workshop and other academic outputs to ensure the dissemination of academic an

Planned Impact

The project is conceived to have public impacts upon the social and cultural – and potentially economic – lives of the inhabitants of Wales and beyond.

The project will elicit and make explicit the experiences of inhabitants of rural communities, framing and presenting them in ways that enhance their value and make them a viable resource in informing public discourse, and potentially policy.

The proposed web delivery will support the broadest engagement with the public, and facilitate collaboration between the public and researchers and their sources, for example, by outlining ideas for the input of transcriptions and annotation of data by the broader community. This will support knowledge transfer and enable the arts and humanities research to be central to public engagement with archives, data and primary source materials for climate change.
We achieve impact through:

• fieldwork interviews to elicit the memory and opinions of local and regional individuals, communities, groups and stakeholders such as agricultural organisations organised through local community groups and for instance through appeals in the well-established Welsh community press; through national press and broadcast media; through the presence of the National Library within contexts such as the annual National Eisteddfod; through the provision of on-line web resources, including The People’s Collections, Wales; and through exposition in both performance and on a publicly accessible web-site for the accessible deposit of memory and opinions, advertised through the publicity machinery of NLW and local and regional press and encouraging active participation and engagement; and as a depository and platform for the exposition of all our outputs
• a public performance to enhance awareness, understanding and appreciation of extreme weather events and how responses to such historical occurrences might inform contemporary experiences, strengthening local and regional regard for adaptability fostering opportunities for post-performance discussion.
• a public Workshop at the NLW(funded by the Library) to present and consider the outputs, their further development and potential arenas of impact.

Anticipated impacts are upon perception and upon the demonstration of active and historically informed ways to engage in discussion of weather and climate change and to assess the efficacy of responses to extreme events particularly as enacted in rural Wales.

The project further aims to increase the public effectiveness of an institution – the National Library of Wales – in making its collections visible and in demonstrating new ways in which they can be accessed and made culturally meaningful. Impacts are anticipated:
• in developing a methodology for the identification and provisional ordering of archival material thematic as opposed to by author or period in order to reveal resonant convergences;
• in investigating and proposing models for the public exposition of archival materials in both live events and on-line platforms
• in developing collaborations with communities engaged with archives, including local and family historians.
With regard to ACRE, official weather records from instrumental data will be augmented with 'unofficial' data from archives and other public records and privately collected materials related to historic weather accounts that will be a powerful means of checking the 'official' figures against those collected elsewhere. It will also enable ACRE to build a fuller picture of data from areas where it has not gathered data itself.
International impact will be achieved via ACRE’s involvement in the global community of climate science research (http://www.met-acre.org/).

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Dawns Ysbrydion/Ghost Dance National Theatre of Wales Production 
Description In 2015, National Theatre of Wales funded the development of Dawns Ysbrydion/Ghost Dance as a touring performances at locations around the UK, including the Edinburgh Festival. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact Publicity includes: http://theatreanddance.britishcouncil.org/blog/2016/09/what-gives-theatre-in-wales-its-radical-edge/ http://exeuntmagazine.com/reviews/dawns-ysbrydion-ghost-dance/ http://dance.wales/events/dawns-ysbrydion http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/dawns-ysbrydion-ghost-dance/708159 http://www.asiw.co.uk/reviews/dawns-ysbrydion-ghost-dancetheatr-genedlaethol-cymru 
URL http://theatr.cymru/dawns-ysbrydion-tour-november-2015/?lang=en
 
Title Dawns Ysbrydion/Ghost dance 09.02.63 
Description Dawns Ysbrydion/Ghost dance 09.02.63 is a performance of Dawns Ysbrydion/Ghost dance at the Edinburgh Festival in 2013, funded by Wales Arts International, bringing the project output to a new audience. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact The British Council funding for this award brought it to press and media attention, and was the basis of a commission for the production by National Theatre of Wales. 
URL http://www.wai.org.uk/wales-in-edinburgh/2013-wales-in-edinburgh/eddie-ladd
 
Title Dawns ysbrydion 
Description The performance was inspired by the archival and community generated content, as well as the historic climate data from the Met Office. As such, it was a wonderful synthesis of all aspects of the project. It's been documented as a comprehensive digital archive, documenting the performance and the the creative process that led to its development. One of the main outputs of the research and community engagement carried out by 'The Snows of Yesteryear'/'Eira Ddoe' was the staging of a public performance, Dawns Ysbrydion/Ghost Dance. Our aims in developing the performance were - to engage wider audiences; - to inform, enhance and stimulate public awareness, understanding and appreciation through accounts and representations of extreme weather events; and how responses to such historical occurrences might inform contemporary experiences, strengthening local and regional regard for adaptability and resilience; - methodologically, to devise modes of performance appropriate for the dramaturgical assemblage of diverse materials - including scientific data - and for their public exposition in live situations; - to develop procedures to help illuminate, explicate and problematise the multiplicity of meanings that resonate within extreme climatic experiences; - to evoke past events and the immediate responses to them: of both trauma and resilience; bridging a linguistic as well as a historical and cultural gap between texts and modern audiences. To this end, we commissioned Welsh performance artist Eddie Ladd to create a summative work. Challengingly, her impulse was to draw together an extreme weather event and a contemporaneous 'extreme' political event, in a performance with three distinct elements: dance, live soundtrack and spoken text. The performance was inspired by the archival research into historic weather, and data from visualisations developed by the Met Office of extreme weather. We have documented this performance, the creative process involved in its development, including the use of associated historical sources, and this digital archive will remain on the project's website, at the National Library of Wales, as a permanent digital record of the project. About the performance Eddie: Snow began to fall on Boxing Day, 1962. It kept snowing, drifting and freezing until the end of March, 1963. Despite the bitter weather, Emyr Llywelyn, Owain Williams and John Albert Jones decided to go ahead with their planned action against the site of the building of a dam in the Celyn valley in north Wales, intended to provide water for Liverpool. Late at night on February 9th, 1963, the three above broke into the site and planted an explosive device on a transformer that was a part of its power system. By the time that the thaw set in at the end of March, Emyr Llywelyn had been caught and sentenced. The conceptual trajectory here is fascinating. Eddie observed that there are now willows on the banks of the reservoir, and that by lore willows weep because whilst slaves in Babylon, the Jews hung their harps in them. So, she invited radical harpist Rhodri Davies to create the score. Rhodri involved sound artist Lee Patterson and together they created a sound world that involved freezing and thawing a commissioned harp - rigged with contact microphones - in a block of ice, and submerging another; and then manipulating the results. I knew that the three who bombed the site had to contend with snow on their way there but thus far I hadn't drawn the two stories - one about the hard winter of 1963 and the other Tryweryn - together. They always counted as two stories to me - two separate legends. But 'The Snows of Yesteryear' project offered me the opportunity to consider them in the same time and space. To begin with, I liked the idea that the weather had no impact on the deed. I liked too that the activities should be considered as a lump of stuff in our human story. Finally I liked that it was an unusual story about unrelentingness and our survival. It goes to the bottom - to the cultural survival of Wales and Welsh. I was almost considering the anxiety about the climate (here in Wales at least) as a 'soft' subject compared to this. Eddie wanted to allude to snow, and initially considered salt, then fake snow. The decision to use two tons of flour had a number of implications: the potential for actual explosion being the foremost! Principally, it created a testing environment in which to perform, impacting ergonomically upon her choreography. But she could also create small detonations, and mimic frosty breathe, by exhaling variously. This was a story about an event using explosions and the floor was made made out of explosive material. Something to allude to the land and this created far above its head. By holding it in my mouth and breathing out, I could integrate activity and thinking about the physical struggle together. The change in her appearance was further suggestive. Eddie: Although the brief was to make a piece on extreme weather, I also began to think about the dances that native Americans [in pale make-up] conducted during the 19th century. These were a means of recalling a culture that was rapidly being destroyed with the expansion of white culture westwards into America. Tribes would meet, sing, eat and dance to the point of hallucination, for five nights at a time. The piece sets itself in this context and asks us, perhaps, to consider the action against the site of the reservoir, as it was largely symbolic, as a kind of ghost dance in and of itself. The final dramaturgical component came with the texts written and spoken by Dr. Roger Owen from Aberystwyth University: combining the poetic rendering of data with historical account, that drew upon a field interview with Emyr Llewelyn himself. Dawns Ysbrydion/Ghost Dance - a monochrome dance theatre show in three phases: The intention: ten dances, with two texts in Welsh on how snow is formed and on the production of adrenaline; The act : introduction and four dances, with a text in Welsh on nitroglycerine, a component of gelignite; The sentence: two dances, with the Welsh text describing the process of thawing. A performance beautifully and profoundly allegorical: with multiple entwined resonances, where perhaps we had anticipated something didactic. A wintery landscape of tracks and clouds and hard going; a devastated, apocalyptic world Eddie - dressed in white, with white contact lens - as animate snowman; Japanese butoh dancer; camouflaged activist; silent apparition; millenarian augur (orger), both culturally and climaticallyOccasioning room and cause for thought Roger - In the air Dust Invisible tissue Mobile through Cold and warm currents A magnet for vapour To form a cloud A host of particles Assembling, flowing, mingling, tumbling And ripening To supersaturate And now It cannot hold It cannot contain The unknowing cold Makes crystals Deep in the damp The bonds' quivering Stills And the molecules scrum in frozen, hexagonal Layer upon layer Solid and light Each one minted Identical threepenny, sixpenny twelvepenny But rolling through the cloudswell Warm surge, cold retreat They Stretch and flinch Arms, fingers, teeth, hair Wings, blades Heat, cold carving character As they descend Each snowflake Is the story Of its own fall Dawns Ysbrydion/Ghost Dance: Performance details Staged in the black studio of the Department of Theatre, Film and Television, Aberystwyth University, June 20th, 2014. Staged at the culmination of an afternoon of public events: 14.00 Rhodri Davies+Lee Patterson Preparing a harp, frozen into a block of ice, for the evening's performance 16.00 Roger Owen delivers a lecture on the bombing campaign against the building of the Tryweryn dam, native American ghost dances, snow and nitroglycerine 19.30 Dawns Ysbrydion 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Dawns ysbrydion has been taken on by the Theatr Genedlaethol for its programme for 2015. There will now be three dancers onstage instead of one and the stage surface will change from flour to felt, possibly. The company will re-work the existing dance, text and soundtrack material and develop new material during a rehearsal period this November and a longer period in April, May and August 2015. The show will open at the Edinburgh Fringe later on the same month before touring Wales in October and November. Other performance opportunities may arise at home and abroad. 
URL http://eira.llgc.org.uk
 
Description The key findings of this project have been threefold:

- that historical sources in archives are an important resource for climate science, and that they can be presented and reinterpreted using weather visualisations to understand historic weather impact

- that communities have much to contribute to narratives of historic weather, and that community generated content is important to this sort of project.

- that these materials can be combined creatively to communicate better to the public an understanding of extreme weather through the medium of performance.

One of the main outputs of the research and community engagement carried out by 'The Snows of Yesteryear'/'Eira Ddoe' was the staging of a public performance, Dawns Ysbrydion/Ghost Dance. Our aims in developing the performance were
- to engage wider audiences;
- to inform, enhance and stimulate public awareness, understanding and appreciation through accounts and representations of extreme weather events; and how responses to such historical occurrences might inform contemporary experiences, strengthening local and regional regard for adaptability and resilience;
- methodologically, to devise modes of performance appropriate for the dramaturgical assemblage of diverse materials - including scientific data - and for their public exposition in live situations;
- to develop procedures to help illuminate, explicate and problematise the multiplicity of meanings that resonate within extreme climatic experiences;
- to evoke past events and the immediate responses to them: of both trauma and resilience; bridging a linguistic as well as a historical and cultural gap between texts and modern audiences.

To this end, we commissioned Welsh performance artist Eddie Ladd to create a summative work. Challengingly, her impulse was to draw together an extreme weather event and a contemporaneous 'extreme' political event, in a performance with three distinct elements: dance, live soundtrack and spoken text. The performance was inspired by the archival research into historic weather, and data from visualisations developed by the Met Office of extreme weather. We have documented this performance, the creative process involved in its development, including the use of associated historical sources, and this digital archive will remain on the project's website, at the National Library of Wales, as a permanent digital record of the project.

About the performance
Eddie: Snow began to fall on Boxing Day, 1962. It kept snowing, drifting and freezing until the end of March, 1963. Despite the bitter weather, Emyr Llywelyn, Owain Williams and John Albert Jones decided to go ahead with their planned action against the site of the building of a dam in the Celyn valley in north Wales, intended to provide water for Liverpool. Late at night on February 9th, 1963, the three above broke into the site and planted an explosive device on a transformer that was a part of its power system. By the time that the thaw set in at the end of March, Emyr Llywelyn had been caught and sentenced.

The conceptual trajectory here is fascinating. Eddie observed that there are now willows on the banks of the reservoir, and that by lore willows weep because whilst slaves in Babylon, the Jews hung their harps in them. So, she invited radical harpist Rhodri Davies to create the score. Rhodri involved sound artist Lee Patterson and together they created a sound world that involved freezing and thawing a commissioned harp - rigged with contact microphones - in a block of ice, and submerging another; and then manipulating the results.

I knew that the three who bombed the site had to contend with snow on their way there but thus far I hadn't drawn the two stories - one about the hard winter of 1963 and the other Tryweryn - together. They always counted as two stories to me - two separate legends. But 'The Snows of Yesteryear' project offered me the opportunity to consider them in the same time and space.

To begin with, I liked the idea that the weather had no impact on the deed. I liked too that the activities should be considered as a lump of stuff in our human story. Finally I liked that it was an unusual story about unrelentingness and our survival.

It goes to the bottom - to the cultural survival of Wales and Welsh. I was almost considering the anxiety about the climate (here in Wales at least) as a 'soft' subject compared to this.

Eddie wanted to allude to snow, and initially considered salt, then fake snow. The decision to use two tons of flour had a number of implications: the potential for actual explosion being the foremost! Principally, it created a testing environment in which to perform, impacting ergonomically upon her choreography. But she could also create small detonations, and mimic frosty breathe, by exhaling variously.

This was a story about an event using explosions and the floor was made made out of explosive material. Something to allude to the land and this created far above its head. By holding it in my mouth and breathing out, I could integrate activity and thinking about the physical struggle together.

The change in her appearance was further suggestive. Eddie:
Although the brief was to make a piece on extreme weather, I also began to think about the dances that native Americans [in pale make-up] conducted during the 19th century. These were a means of recalling a culture that was rapidly being destroyed with the expansion of white culture westwards into America. Tribes would meet, sing, eat and dance to the point of hallucination, for five nights at a time. The piece sets itself in this context and asks us, perhaps, to consider the action against the site of the reservoir, as it was largely symbolic, as a kind of ghost dance in and of itself.

The final dramaturgical component came with the texts written and spoken by Dr. Roger Owen from Aberystwyth University: combining the poetic rendering of data with historical account, that drew upon a field interview with Emyr Llewelyn himself.
Exploitation Route The research will be the basis for future performances, and has created an interesting model for the combination of art, science, archives, and digital approaches.

The research has also informed an important dimension of climate change, a key environmental narrative of the 21st century. Until now, emphasis on the science of climate change has overshadowed studies focusing on human interpretations of climate history, of adaptation and resilience, and of explorations of the institutions and cultural coping strategies that may have helped people adapt to climate changes in the past. Moreover, although the idea of climate change has been subject to considerable scrutiny by the physical sciences, recent climate scholarship has highlighted the need for a re-examination of the cultural and spatial dimensions of climate, with contributions from the humanities and social sciences. Establishing a multidisciplinary dialogue and approach to climate research past, present, and future has arguably never been more important.

This project has been a very useful contribution to international developments in historical climatology research, and prefigures integrated, multidisciplinary approaches to climate, climatic variability, and climate change research, conducted across the physical sciences, social sciences, humanities, and the arts for a longer, more spatially, and temporally-complete database of the weather. The next stage is for an international group of researchers working together across disciplines to integrate their efforts into a four-dimensional (4D) dynamical global historical climate-quality reanalysis (reconstruction).
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://eira.llgc.org.uk/
 
Description There have been a number of direct and indirect outputs of this research. The work has been used by the Met Office ACRE Initiative in visualisations and reconstructions of historic weather. The research has also contributed better to an understanding of public engagement and community generated content, and how the public can contribute to, and complement, archival sources.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Community engagement at the 2013 Eisteddfod 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Community engagement and interviews at the Eisteddfod to gather data about memories and recollections of extreme weather impact
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://eira.llgc.org.uk/category/community-interaction/
 
Description Future Climate Dialogues 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A public facing event on archives and the environment.

Our presentation: Jones, C. 2013. Voices from the past: Exploring historical weather extremes in Wales through personal diaries and correspondence.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://cargocollective.com/artscienceclimatechange/Future-Climate-Dialogues-Abstracts
 
Description Presentation at "History Above Water" conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact My research was presented in a presentation at the "History Above Water" Historic preservation conference in Newport, RI, USA>
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.historyabovewater.org/
 
Description Public presentation: 'I do not remember the weather so severe' a historical perspective on weather extremes in Wales 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 'I do not remember the weather so severe' a historical perspective on weather extremes in Wales' was a public lecture by Dr Carys Jones (former RA, Snows of Yesteryear) and Professor Sarah Davies, both in the Geography department at Aberystwyth University. It was Webcast to an international audience.

The presentation took as a starting point winter storms of 2013/14, which threw Aberystwyth into the spotlight and caused huge damage. The storms, and the local and international response to them, brought debates about our vulnerability to extreme weather and climate change closer to home. In this presentation, Jones and Davies drew on the rich archive of documentary sources to identify episodes of past extreme weather in Wales, many of which had been uncovered and used during the research for the "Snows of Yesteryear" project. They examined how these events affected local communities, how they have been remembered and discussed how a historical perspective on the weather can provide insights into how we deal with extremes today.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://abercast.aber.ac.uk/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=95b3379e-8695-460e-910c-642fd5546170
 
Description Talking Weather Workshop presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation to audience of geographers, environmental scientists, and science policy representatives, who reported a greater awareness of the role of archives in climate science. The intention was to discuss the use of different methodologies and approaches to explore weather memories and experiences. Together, the two experiments adopted in the original proposal make use of archival records, personal reflections, and experiences recorded through oral histories and digital media sources. The workshop discussed these approaches with representatives of academic and non-academic communities, meteorological organisations, members of the public involved in the 'weather talks and weather walk', professional meteorologists, students and researchers

Presentation: Jones, C., Hughes, L. 2013. Voices from the Past: Reconstructing and Re-enacting the Snows of Yesteryear. Talking Weather Workshop, London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 27/08/2013.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL https://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/snowscenes/2013/08/22/talking-weather/