MERL Seminars: Untouchable England

This series draws inspiration from the fact that the MERL collections may soon be packed away temporarily as part of the Our Country Lives project. This seems a timely moment to give thought to the less material facets of life in rural England. How can we best explore stories, performances, poetry, folklore, mythology, and skills and knowledge of rural people? These lunchtime talks offer fresh perspectives and thought-provoking content about how different forms of intangible heritage might help us explore and better understand rural England.

 

 

Stave dancersSomerset Morris: West Country Friendly Society Stave Dancers

Chloe Metcalfe, Independent Researcher

Somerset Morris has performed stave dancing across England and further afield for over 30 years. Using antique Friendly Society stave heads they perform dances resurrected from old minute books as well as newer creations. Whilst referring to the staves themselves, this talk concentrates on the team's relationship and passion for this traditional and localised dance form. The talk was co-written with Barbara Butler, founding member of Somerset Morris

An informal pop-up display of Friendly Society pole heads (staves) from MERL's extensive holdings will be available for viewing in the mezzanine store immediately after the Seminar. (See pictures of the items on display on the MERL Flickr page)

Find out more about Chloe Metcalfe and Somerset Morris

 

 

Full English logoThe Full English: unlocking hidden treasures of England's cultural heritage

Malcolm Taylor, Library Director, English Folk Dance and Song Society

The Full English is the biggest project the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) has undertaken since the building of its headquarters in 1930. It has created and made accessible an enormous digital archive of early twentieth century English folk arts manuscripts. In this talk the Director of the Society's Library explores how the digitisation and cataloguing process has been enhanced through rich programmes of community engagement and creativity.

There will be a pop-up exhibition in the Museum mezzanine store immediately after the Seminar, offering the chance to see a hobby horse costume with connections to EFDSS as well as other relevant material from the collections. (See pictures of the items on display on the MERL Flickr page)

Find out more about England's Cultural Heritage

 

Baskets at MERLBasketry skills as intangible cultural heritage

Greta Bertram, Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading

The state of traditional craftsmanship has changed dramatically during the last century. While craft skills are recognised by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage, in the UK there is little public awareness of such approaches. Using the example of basketry, this talk will examine the idea of heritage craft, explore values that basketmakers ascribe to their work, and look to the future of intangible craft skills.

The Seminar will be followed by an informal pop-up exhibition of baskets in the Museum's mezzanine store and a chance to talk about MERL's current Stakeholders project. (See pictures of the items on display on the MERL Flickr page)

Find out more about intangible heritage on the MERL project blog.

 

Ghosts and belief: religion and folklore

Dr Paul Cowdell, University of Hertfordshire / The Folklore Society

Barely anywhere in England lacks a ghost story. This is not just a collection of local legends, but points to a complicated history of eschatological thought. This seminar, based on recent fieldwork, examines that folk eschatology. It will look at its interaction with more institutionally expressed religious beliefs, and explores the implications of the apparent disjuncture between them.

Find out more about Dr Paul Cowdell and The Folklore Society

 

W in the W cover"- I catch them at intervals - ": Knowing and Not-Knowing in "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn"

Dr Neil Cocks, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Reading

In this seminar Dr Neil Cocks will be discussing issues of language and narration in the central, mystical chapter of Kenneth Grahame's 'The Wind in the Willows.'

An informal pop-up exhibition of different editions of the book will be available for the audience to enjoy immediately after the Seminar.

Find out more about Dr Neil Cocks

 

LaileySounds Familiar? Exploring British Accents and Dialects'

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Sociolinguistics, British Library

Jonnie Robinson is responsible for the Library's extensive collection of sound recordings that capture social and regional varieties of English. This talk will introduce the Library's audio collections, resources and services and present examples from the Library's sound archives that document British English accents and dialects.

Find out more about Jonnie Robinson

 

folklore logoThe Museum of British Folklore: A new cultural venture

Simon Costin, followed by Obby Robinson

At the moment there is no dedicated institution that explores the full richness of British custom, superstition, and tradition. The Museum of British Folklore aims to address this need. In this talk Simon Costin shares progress to date, reflecting on how the project has gained momentum in its bid to provide a physical home for a heritage that is both tangible and intangible.

The Seminar will be followed by a poetry reading in the Museum's gallery. Obby Robinson will read from his most recent collection-"The Witch-House of Canewdon and Other Poems". These writings draw inspiration from, and loosely improvise upon, English folklore.

Find out more about Simon Costin

 

The Dark Monarch: Magic and modernity in British art

Professor Alun Rowlands, Department of Fine Art, University of Reading

In 2010, Tate St Ives mounted an exhibition exploring the influence of folklore, mysticism, mythology and the occult on modern British art. In this talk Professor Rowlands revisits a performance commissioned from folk dancers and mummers and discusses how art has been used as a vehicle to explore legend and landscape.

Find out more about Professor Alun Rowlands

 

BBC filming at MERLMERL and the BBC: Rural re-enactment and gestural reconstruction in the 1950s

Dr Ollie Douglas, Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading

MERL's earliest curators rapidly adopted the techniques of public history in order to salvage a way of life seen to be disappearing and cement a technology-centred approach to the past. During the 1950s, their short set-piece re-enactments played a prominent role in television broadcast contexts. This talk explores how reconstructive approaches to rural objects provided insight into the less tangible world of past gestures and actions.

This Seminar will be followed by a small pop-up exhibition in the Museum's mezzanine store featuring objects used in television recordings or with connections to radio.

Find out more about Dr Ollie Douglas

 

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