Monday, 23 May 2016

Modern Irish in Easter Term, 2016

Screening of Irish language film by Loïc Jourdain: I mBéal na Stoirme / A Turning Tide in the Life of Man (Lugh Films, Co. Donegal

Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson writes

On 28 April the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic hosted French independent film-maker, Loïc Jourdain, who screened his most recent Irish-language documentary I mBéal na Stoirme / A Turning Tide in the Life of Man ( The film recently won the prestigious Prix CIRCOM 2016 for the best documentary:

John O'Brien, Inisbofin fisherman (photo published with the permission of Loic Jourdain)

Jourdain, a native of Brittany who is living in Ireland, has produced a number of Donegal centered documentaries, several of which explore the challenges faced by small coastal and island communities in Ireland and further afield in Europe.  Filmed over a period of eight years, A Turning Tide in the Life of Man follows the journey of one fisherman from the Irish-speaking island of Inis Bó Finne, John O’Brien, who campaigns on behalf of the islanders (and minoritised fishing communities across the EU more broadly) to regain rights to the traditional catch.  Jourdain's multi-layered film considers the impact of EU-level environmental management policies on this small-scale Irish-speaking fishing community; it also depicts the vulnerability of this and many other coastal fishing communities throughout Europe.

Jourdain follows O'Brien as he confronts shrinking access to the seas and a diminished livelihood for himself, his family and fellow islanders. The film moves seamlessly from Inis Bó Finne to Brussels, tracing the long process of gathering support from other island communities across Europe.  O'Brien's meetings with politicians, crushing disappointments and small victories are juxtaposed to scenes of local rituals and festivities, which reveal the deep cultural links between distant islands.  Nothing is 'staged', giving the film a moment to moment pace and poignant human authenticity.  The camera captures the natural beauty of Inis Bó Finne in beautifully textured and subtle visual images, but does not disguise the harsher realities.  The viewer is drawn into O'Brien's long, hard journey—the flights, trains, phone conversations, heated debates—and finally, into the corridors of the European Parliament and Commission.  One is aware of the passage of time and seeming endless political hurdles. And yet the overall effect is not that of an unbridgeable gulf between Inis Bó Finne and Brussels, but rather one of a real human encounter.  Joudain's film puts a face on the diverse, multi-lingual exchanges in Brussels, where John O'Brien speaks in the European Parliament and challenges EU fishing policies.  Finally, what emerges is a sense of the interconnection of all communities, large and small, as we collectively face the depletion of our natural resources and the rupture of our richly diverse linguistic and cultural communities.

Dinner following film screening:
Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson (ASNC), Kristoff Wright (MPhil, Comparative Literature), Julia Modern (Trinity College), Ian Ostericher (St. John's College); front Loic Jourdain,  Natalie  Morningstar (Trinity Hall).

The event was attended by a large audience of students, faculty and members of the Cambridge community.  Joudain's remarks during the engaging Q&A session provided further insight into the film project and the challenging issues it confronts.  Jourdain's account of his own personal experience of free and open access to filming during EU sessions was particularly timely, and affirmed the opportunities for disagreement, debate and collaboration within the European community. A member of the audience who has been involved in European Union politics and human rights praised Jourdain's work: 'The film was outstanding and has stayed with me since. I wish hundreds more could have seen it.  It is a beautiful and powerful observation of how politics work at international, national, community and personal levels, and how inspiring the actions of one person joining with others can still be'.  Similarly, a Cambridge student from Northern Ireland remarked: 'Films like these open up our perspectives, raising awareness of our place within the patchwork quilt of European nations and cultures, with all the benefits that such co-operation can bring.' 

Filmmaker Loic Jourdain and Cambridge PhD student Natalie Morningstar

Thanks are extended especially to Cambridge PhD student (Anthropology) Natalie Morningstar, a student in the ASNC Modern Irish language classes and recent recipient of the H.M. Chadwick Scholarship to support her study of Irish in Donegal. Morningstar, who is researching Irish-language multimedia and the politics of resource management, met Jourdain and proposed a screening of the film at Cambridge University.  Her generous time and efforts in preparing for Jourdain's visit, and her collaborative work with Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson (Teaching Associate in Modern Irish) in organizing the event, is greatly appreciated.  Our thanks are also extended to Gavin McHugh for his technical expertise at the screening and Jen Pollard for her advice during preparations.  The event was generously supported by the Cambridge Group for Irish Studies (Magdalene College). The group's secretary, Conor Leahy, offered helpful assistance, and Professor Máire Ní Mhaonaigh and St. John's College provided generous hospitality.  Most especially, we thank Loïc Jourdain for bringing this thoughtful and thought-provoking film to Cambridge University.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

1016, England and the Wider World

Rebecca Thomas and Albert Fenton write

On Saturday the 16th of April the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic played host to a conference commemorating the death of Æthelred ‘the Unready’ in its final addition to a series of anniversary conferences. ‘1016, England and the Wider World’ was the third instalment in the successful ‘Writing History: Battles and the Shaping of the North Atlantic World’ series which saw conferences commemorating the Battle of Clontarf in 2014 and Cnut’s re-invasion of England in 2015.

An exciting day of papers opened with a key-note lecture by ASNC’s Professor Simon Keynes, who re-examined Æthelred’s reputation, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to depictions of the payment of the infamous ‘Danegeld’ and the ‘Massacre of St Brice’s Day’ by turn-of-the-century artists.

 (Æthelred II paying tribute to the Vikings; from Hutchinson's Story of the British Nations from the early 1920s)

There was some opportunity to further consider whether Æthelred has been unfairly treated by historians over coffee, before we were presented with a session on ‘Greater Britain’. Dr Alex Woolf (University of St Andrews) provided an exhaustive account of the evidence for Cnut's connections to the kingdom of the Scots and the House of Bamburgh, whilst Dr Caroline Brett (ASNC) explored the political make-up of Brittany in the tenth and eleventh centuries, using the evidence of charters, chronicles and narrative sources to assess the Breton's contribution to the so-called 'feudal revolution'.

For the afternoon we turned our attention to the ‘wider world’, with ASNC’s Dr Elizabeth Rowe exploring the domestic politics of Denmark in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, focusing on Harald Bluetooth’s reign, kingship, and the nature of his overlordship. Dr Levi Roach (University of Exeter) brought the session to an end, placing Æthelred’s reign in context, and exploring a range of fascinating links and comparisons with his Continental counterparts.

All three of the conferences in the series invited a speaker to discuss a more recent anniversary, succeeding in drawing some interesting parallels and contrasts in methods of commemoration, and placing our own conferences in a wider context. In the final instalment we were treated to a discussion of the battles of the First World War by Professor Robert Tombs, a historian of modern France (University of Cambridge), as he examined the changing memory of the war, and the mediums through which it was expressed. This second key-note lecture was a fitting end to a day of papers which brought together different methods and approaches in an attempt to cast further light upon the events of a thousand years previously.  

Old Norse Postgraduate Symposium in Bergen

Jonathan Hui writes

The 10th Bergen-UK Old Norse Postgraduate Symposium was held in Bergen, Norway, between Tuesday 12th and Saturday 16th April 2016. The symposium featured thirty-one graduate speakers from eight universities across three busy days, with papers spanning a range of disciplines, including archaeology, history, religion, literature and linguistics. 

Led by Dr Judy Quinn and Dr Brittany Schorn, seven ASNC graduate students travelled to Bergen to participate in the symposium. On a first day which began with Professor Else Mundal's opening keynote lecture on knowledge in the poems of the Poetic Edda, two ASNC papers followed in the mythological vein: Amelia Herridge Ishak analysed the terminology used in the construction of mythological place-names, before Tom Grant offered a fascinating interpretation of the tenth-century skaldic poem Þórsdrápa

On Thursday, my paper on the localised legends underlying Bósa saga was followed by Katherine Olley's wide-ranging exploration of the dynamics of uncle-nephew relations in legendary poems and sagas, before Caitlin Ellis' examination of the historical factors behind the youthful exploits of Norwegian kings ended both the day and a delightfully cohesive session on representations of age. Friday saw Francesco Colombo combine textual and literary evidence to challenge some of the common editorial assumptions about Reginsmál and Fáfnismál, while Ben Allport employed statistical analysis to examine the usage of terms for Norwegian regional identities in Heimskringla

After three full days, all that remained was to enjoy the excursion day in the Bergen sunshine, with visits to Gamle Bergen, the Fisheries and Hanseatic Museums and Mount Fløyen rounding off a productive and enjoyable trip. A final word of thanks must go to Dr Jens Eike Schnall and Dr Helen Leslie-Jacobsen for their hard work and hospitality in organising the symposium.