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Commemorating the British past: sites and materials of collective memory in Drych y Prif Oesoedd

Alter, Dewi 2021. Commemorating the British past: sites and materials of collective memory in Drych y Prif Oesoedd. Presented at: 50th Annual Conference British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS 2020), Virtual, 6-8 January 2021.

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The relationship between, space, place, materials and collective memory is a common theme in Memory Studies. The main arguments are that the locating of memory in material objects aids commemoration. This paper will analyse the sites and materials of memory in Drych y Prif Oesoedd / The Mirror of the Prime Ages (1716; 1740) a passionate Anglican apologetic of the Brutan past. It will be argued that Theophilus Evans (1693-1767), a prominent member of the Anglican Church in Wales, uses the landscape and material objects to commemorate his narrative of the past. Drawing on work on early modern memory practices by Alexandra Walsham (2012) and Judith Pollmann (2017) that emphasise the role the landscape and object, I will argue that these ‘sites’ are used as sources to validate and support his Anglican Galfridian narrative, and place the Welsh as the narrative’s main characters. Using a broad definition of ‘sites’ this paper will interpret them as vehicles of memory used to convey a past that reinforces a traditional view of Welsh identity and history, defining them as the descendants of the original Britons, a classical, Biblical and euro-Mediterranean people. These sites and materials will be analysed as conveyors of a stable Welsh past and identity at the start of the eighteenth century, with moral and ethical lessons embedded in these sites and objects. I will also demonstrate that early modern source materials were varied and despite the elevated status of the written word, material remains and tangible object had a significant impact on how the past was understood and appropriated. In a period when Brutan historiography had long fallen out of favour Theophilus Evans uses the British landscape as a mnemoscape and a source for the commemoration and celebration of the mythical history of Britain. Evans argues that the physical remains testify to this narrative, therefore, despite the contemporary scorn, it must be true. This paper will contribute to our understanding of pre-modern memory and how the physical and material world were understood in historical writing in the eighteenth century. Scholars that engage with memory, landscape, and British and Welsh identities will be interested in this paper.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Welsh
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
P Language and Literature > PB Modern European Languages > PB1001 Celtic languages and literature
Date of Acceptance: 8 January 2021
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2021 16:15

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