AHRC grant awarded to CAWCS for joint research project on the Welsh and Scottish Tour in the Romantic period

Posted on 16 June 2014
Thomas-Pennant

Image fromThomas Pennant’s Extra-Illustrated A tour in Wales, courtesy of the National Library of Wales

The University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) has been awarded a research grant of £785,784 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The money will support a four-year research project, run jointly with the University of Glasgow, titled ‘Curious Travellers: Thomas Pennant and the Welsh and Scottish Tour 1760–1815’. The project will explore travellers’ accounts of their journeys into Wales and Scotland at the turn of the nineteenth century. It will also focus on the writings of the Flintshire naturalist and antiquarian Thomas Pennant (1726–98), the ‘Father of Cambrian Tourists’, whose published Tours of both countries did so much to awaken public interest in the ‘peripheries’ of Britain.

Professor Dafydd Johnston, Director of CAWCS, welcomed the award:

“This is excellent news. This is an exciting project, and the grant will allow the Centre to continue its innovative and important work on Romantic-period Wales, building on a decade’s worth of expertise gained from the ‘Iolo Morganwg’ and the ‘Wales and the French Revolution’ projects.”

There has been much recent writing on global exploration in this period – Cook's Pacific voyages, or the travels of Joseph Banks. But the less well-known parallel 'exploration' of Britain was just as important. The published domestic tour was an extraordinarily successful genre, second only to novels and romances, and it helped to shape popular perceptions of the British past. Travel-writing uncovered the past in the landscape, through sites (cromlechs, churches, castles), popular culture (language, costume, song, and 'national character'), objects and images (antiquities, landscapes). Writers like Thomas Pennant arguably played an important role in the construction of national histories, both at a 'four nations' level, and in a larger British context.

Led by Principal Investigator and Project Leader Dr Mary-Ann Constantine (CAWCS) and Co-Investigator Professor Nigel Leask (Glasgow), the project will produce two freely-available research tools: a database of Pennant’s extensive and scattered correspondence, and a searchable online corpus of some sixty previously unpublished Welsh and Scottish tours. The project will also develop a 'Curious Travellers' website, which will be a lively source of information about the experience of travel in Scotland and Wales in the period. It will include interactive maps of selected routes and a bibliography of hundreds of published and unpublished Welsh and Scottish tours. Sections of the website will be developed to provide useful resources for the school history curriculum.

Speaking about the project, Dr Mary-Ann Constantine said:

“This project will open a window onto the vivid and often entertaining accounts of scores of 'curious travellers' who headed for the edges of the British Isles in search of the primitive, the picturesque and the sublime – and often found the foreign, and the unsettling, surprisingly close to home.”

Monographs by Constantine and Leask will explore the broader phenomenon of the tour, looking at the recovery of alternative national versions of history; the relationship between travel writing and native literary genres (Welsh, Scots, and Gaelic); the influence of new scientific discourse; and the contribution of visual imagery.

A series of conferences and exhibitions based in national and local museums and libraries across Wales and Scotland will highlight the visual and material aspects of the tour, from landscape-painting to Roman antiquities and natural history. Creative events will include some of our most prominent artists and writers retracing earlier itineraries to create their own modern versions of the Tour.

The project will start in September, and the first public event is a free one-day conference entitled ‘Classical Celtic’, to be held at Amgueddfa Cymru–National Museum Wales in Cardiff on 19 September. Timed to overlap with a major international exhibition of paintings by the landscape artist Richard Wilson (1714-82), this event will explore the influence of Greece and Rome on travellers to Wales and Scotland in the period. For more information about the conference, contact a.elias@cymru.ac.uk

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For interviews and media information, please contact the University of Wales Communications Team via communications@wales.ac.uk or 029 20 375057. For general information and frequently asked questions regarding the University, please visit www.wales.ac.uk

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