Posted on 1 September 2016
The historian Gwyn Alf Williams claimed that the first modern Welsh “nation” was born with the American and French revolutions; so was the first democracy.
From the 6th to the 29th of September, an exciting new exhibition at the Futures Gallery in the Pierhead Building, Cardiff Bay, will bring together a wealth of words and images exploring the story of public political discourse in Wales from the 1790s to the present day.
Entitled Chwyldro/Revolution, the exhibition is jointly organised by the Welsh Political Archive at The National Library of Wales and the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, drawing on work from the AHRC-funded Wales and the French Revolution project.
The exhibition explores Welsh responses to the French revolution, and witnesses key events through the eyes of some of the Welsh people who were in France at the time. It also discusses the impact of the revolution in France on Wales, and the British government's efforts to stifle discussion of radical ideas. In letters, songs, pamphlets and pictures from The National Library of Wales, Welsh voices express their radically different responses to events in Wales, Europe and the wider world.
Chwyldro/Revolutionfurther examines some of the major themes of political debate in Wales during the two centuries that followed, focusing on democracy, women's rights, labour struggles, war and peace, the Welsh language, devolution and the Welsh response to international events.
Two related events have been organised to coincide with the exhibition:
- Wednesday 7th September - launch with a talk by Professor Damian Walford Davies (Cardiff University)
- Wednesday 21st September - event organised by the Welsh Political Archive with Elin Jones, AM for Ceredigion.
Rob Phillips, Welsh Political Archive and Co-Curator of the exhibitions said:
“The National Library is a treasure-trove of material that brings the history of politics in Wales alive. So many people have been involved in this story by marching, protesting, striking and voting to try and change the world. The exhibition is a great opportunity for us to open up the archives and explore the arguments and ideas that have fired the spirit of the people of Wales over the past two centuries. "
Mary Ann-Constantine, Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies and joint curator of the exhibition added:
"It’s wonderful to have the chance to put this French Revolution material in a long-term perspective; and this is also a timely opportunity to see Wales itself in a European context. There is a wealth of stories here in words and pictures: eyewitnesses to major events share their responses through sermons, speeches and books; in other more personal documents, fears or hopes are shared in writing, music and song. Thanks to the archives of the Library, we can see how political ideas and discussion have long been part of people’s everyday lives”
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University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies
Established by the University in 1985, the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) is a dedicated research institute in Aberystwyth which carries out collaborative research projects into the language, literature and history of Wales, and the other Celtic countries.
Welsh Political Archive
The Welsh Political Archive was set up in 1983 to co-ordinate the collection of documentary evidence of all kinds about politics in Wales. It collects the records and papers of political parties, politicians, quasi-political organisations, campaigns and pressure groups; leaflets, pamphlets, other printed ephemera, posters, photographs, and tapes of radio and television programmes. Its work is not restricted to a specific department within the Library.
Wales and the French Revolution
The French Revolution of 1789 was perhaps the defining event of the Romantic period in Europe. It unsettled not only the ordering of society but language and thought itself. This AHRC funded project explored how the momentous events of 1789 and their aftermath came to be known and felt across the country, and whether Welsh responses to the Revolution differed from those in Scotland, Ireland or London. A wide range of texts in both Welsh and English, from ballads and pamphlets to poems, essays, journals, sermons, songs and satires, were analysed and edited by the project team, producing a number of publications and resources published by the University of Wales Press.