Wednesday 24 January 2018: A Presentation by Alley Jordan, University of Edinburgh.
In 1771, the twenty-eight-year-old Thomas Jefferson drew up plans for a classical grotto on his Virginian estate. The scheme embraced a physical and an imaginary world, profoundly influenced by the literature of the ancient world. Sadly for posterity, the ideas were never realised-financial constraints saw to that – but his original plans and additional notes of 1787 provide a tantalising glimpse into Jefferson’s neo-classical vision. In a fascinating paper, Alley Jordan, a second year PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, considered Jefferson’s grotto in its eighteenth-century context: what was its purpose? what was nature of the Grecian ideal which had inspired it? And how does the physical creation of a neo-classical grotto relate to notions of Enlightenment?
The grotto, Alley argued, served many purposes but ultimately it was a place where Jefferson could materialise or re-create his own imagination. Jefferson was steeped in a classical tradition, his grotto a conscious attempt to bring classical antiquity to life. In ancient Greece, the grotto had represented a place of escape. Situated in the mountains, it was a world away from the toils of everyday life. Its life-healing waters were associated with the god Asclepius and connected with the rivers of the Underworld. In early modern times, the grotto came to be associated with melancholy, but Jefferson wanted to recreate the classical idea. In his mind’s eye, he visualised a world removed from the day to day burdens of running a plantation where he could act out his own Theocritan idyll. He believed in the healing powers of spring water and, as the ancients, imagined the presence of Asclepius. Jefferson’s grotto, however, would be both healing and ornamental. He planned a tiered water fall which would make use of the natural waterfalls of Virginia and a sacred temple, similar perhaps to the Queen’s Temple at Stowe. Music and musical instrument would be present in the temple, a conscious echo of a world reflected by the poetry of Theocritus and Virgil. As Alley argued, the grotto was an artistic work which enabled Jefferson to imagine himself in an artistic dreamland.
The plan for Jefferson’s grotto, consistent with the classical notion of a locus amoenus, comprised a physical and mystical experience. Each part of the cave would elicit a different emotional response; a visit represented a journey from dark to light and from cold to hot, whilst the presence of stone provided an important connection with geology and geography. As Alley argued, the grotto was a place of transformation and enlightenment in the 18th century.
Alley’s paper generated animated discussion from an appreciative audience. The Graduate Workshop wishes Alley well with her continuing research.
Our next Graduate Workshop takes place on Wednesday 7 February 2018 when our speaker will be Gintare Venzlauskaite from the University of Glasgow. Her paper is entitled:
From Post-War West to Post-soviet east: Manifestations of Displacement, Collective Memory, and Lithuanian Diasporic Experience Revisited
It considers WWII displacements from Lithuania. To what extent did they have an effect on the country’s memory landscape? By providing a retrospective view of discursive patterns regarding population losses and their role in national identity construction, Gintare’s study travels across the US and Russia where a significant part of these losses has been transformed into diasporic communities and their networks.
The workshop will take place at 1 pm in G 16 in the William Robertson Wing of the Old Medical School in Teviot Place.
Everyone is welcome to attend!
We have now posted details for the spring 2018 programme of the Graduate Workshop. You can find full details on our page:
The series begins on Wednesday 24 January at 1 pm in Room G 16 in the William Robertson Wing of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, the Old Medical School (Doorway 4) , Teviot Place, Edinburgh.
Alley Jordan, of the University of Edinburgh, will speak on:
“Beautiful shells from the shore” Thomas Jefferson’s Sacred Grotto of 1771
Everyone is most welcome to attend.
Review by Devin Grier
On 28 November 2017, Rianna Walcott rounded up our last presentation of the first semester. Rianna is nearing the end of her first year as a digital humanities PhD student at King’s College London, having completed undergraduate and Masters degrees in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. Her doctoral research, evolving from her Masters dissertation, considers the notion of ‘whiteness’ within black spheres. She is currently examining the use of language by black women and women of colour in closed and secret Facebook groups, and the extent to which these groups are able to provide space to critique whiteness.
The experience of blacks in postcolonial Britain provided the starting point for Rianna’s presentation. Whilst the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush in 1948, carrying almost 500 Jamaicans, was not the first landfall made by people of African descent to Britain, it marked the first influx of widespread migration from the West Indies to the United Kingdom. In the mid-twentieth century, the increase in Afro-Caribbean immigrants provoked a political backlash from those intent on preserving Britain’s imperial image. Rianna argued that anxieties among the white population resulted from a combination of racial and national identities. In order to differentiate themselves from the West Indians, a familiar white ‘we’ was constructed against a dangerous ‘black’ unknown. Because race and nationality became linked, being ‘British’ was predicated on white history. Rianna argued that it was at this point that Britain “was beginning to be disrupted by the black other – or more accurately by a black other that dared to enter white space.”
Postcolonial scholarship based on racial identity and ‘othering’ has tended to distinguish the non-white from the ‘neutral’ position of a white, western male. Through the window of literature, Rianna sought to invert this viewpoint by prioritizing black observation and analyzing several texts authored by West Indians and their British descendants, from the Windrush period to the modern day. In the course of her discussion, she made particular reference to Sam Selvon’s novel, The Lonely Londoners (1956), and Zadie Smith’s literary debut, White Teeth (2000).
“The novels,” Rianna contended, “are linked by examination of the physical, literary and social dimensions of ‘space.’ As both the container of everyday life and an active agent or social force. The physical space of London, and how black writers conceptualize the city as a multicultural space, is central to my argument.” In each book, the black character is written into what is self evidently a white space: “Galahad walks through Piccadilly Circus while naming what he sees, and, in a metafictional gesture, White Teeth’s Samad viscerally links his colonised body with imperial space by inscribing his name in blood onto a bench in Trafalgar Square.”
In conclusion, Rianna summarized the literary representations of migrants who transform their new spaces: “Spaces are defined in relation to the self, and treated as something to be assimilated into, creolised, or rejected from.” Presented in the form of literature, these various processes of assimilation highlight the paradoxical nature of Britain’s physical space: “The narratives show black immigrants and black Britons futilely searching for a compromise between discrete, segregated racial identities and the threat of dissolution through multiculturalism.”
Outside her doctoral research, Rianna has pursued related interests. In early 2017, she co-founded Project Myopia, a website dedicated to decolonizing and diversifying university curricula. The project crowd-sources reviews of diverse materials and advocates their inclusion in academic syllabuses.
The workshop was well-attended, with a very active and insightful question and answer session following the presentation. We wish Rianna the best of luck with her future studies.
Review by Devin Grier
Peter Kormylo, from the University of Glasgow, joined us on 14 October 2017. Recently retired from a career in public education, Peter now dedicates his time to researching the history of the Ukrainian community in Scotland. His aim is to fill a wide gap in knowledge, as the literature on the Ukrainian diaspora in the United Kingdom is lacking. Since Scotland’s Ukrainian community has a relatively low profile, it tends to be forgotten.
During the workshop, Peter identified four distinct waves of Ukrainian migration to Scotland:
Wave 1. Late nineteenth, early twentieth century: migrant laborers who intended to find
work in the Americas. Many from Ukraine who were destined to cross the Atlantic stopped off in Scottish ports including Leith. At this point in their travels, some migrants had already run out of money and decided to disembark in Scotland. Referred as the ‘Little Russians’ by British natives, this small stream of Ukrainians disappeared into Scottish society.
Wave 2. 1905-1917: political refugees of the Russian Revolution. During this period, the UK government implemented the 1905 Aliens Act which controlled the level of immigration from eastern Europe. The main requirement for entry was that an individual had show a means of support. As a result, the elite classes made up the majority of this second migratory stream.
Wave 3. 1939-1947: WWII and post-war immigrants. This period contained four main elements:
- 1939: Royal Canadian Airforce: second generation Ukrainians from Canada.
- 1942: Polish Armed Forces.
- 1946: Ukrainian displaced persons who refused Soviet Union repatriation, and Ukrainian European voluntary workers.
- 1947: Surrendered army personnel of the Ukrainian Galicia Division. This wave consisted of Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered on the Eastern Front following Germany’s defeat. The division was removed from its internment in Italy in order to prevent the nearby Soviet Union from repatriating the Ukranian POWs. During peace arrangements, thousands of Ukrainian POWs were transported to workers’ camps in Britain, many of which were in Scotland. Peter’s research is now focused on identifying the Scottish camps that contained sizable Ukrainian communities.
Wave 4. Mid-1980s onwards. After Mikhail Gorbachev became head of state in 1985, the political system of the Soviet Union underwent extreme liberalization. As a result, the number of Ukrainian immigrants to the UK increased. Furthermore, the subsequent fall of the USSR in 1991 ignited an even greater wave of migration to the UK.
Peter also presented a handful of extraordinary historic photographs of the Ukrainian community in Scotland. Much of Peter’s research has been coloured by the response to his ongoing photo exchange project. His photo exchange holds a wealth of material for those interested in the Ukrainian community. Anyone wishing to add to the collection, or inquire about specific images, can email Peter at email@example.com
Review by Devin Grier
On 31 October 2017, the Graduate Workshop welcomed Meg Foster of the University of New South Wales. Her current PhD research examines the legacy of Australia’s infamous bushrangers. Her focus on Black Douglas, a bushranger of African descent, challenges the identity of the bushranger in Australian myth and folklore.
The legacy of the bushranger in Australia is often associated with the vigilant white man, a figure who challenged law and authority, and blurred the distinctions of those who ruled the land. As with the Californian Gold Rush, the gold-seeking communities in Australia experienced disorder and crime.
In May 1855, reports circulated that a gang, led by a black man, was terrorising the small mining community of Marybourgh in Victoria. The locals responded with an uprising; a group of vigilantes succeeded in capturing the notorious black outlaw, known as ‘Black Douglas”.The capture of Black Douglas was widely celebrated by the press as a outstanding example of vigilance at work.
Douglas’s physical features soon became synonymous with crime in the goldfields and in the bush. The colour of his skin represented trouble — ‘black’ was enough to label him as a criminal. In turn, Black Douglas became a celebrity. Not only was he blamed for every unsolved crime in the gold fields, but it was even considered a mark of distinction to have a run-in with the man himself. With a focus on Douglas, disorder during Australia’s Gold Rush became colour-coded.
Meg’s research has attempted to dislocate the myth from Douglas’s reality. While his exact origins are unknown, it is suspected that he was American-born and sailed to Bristol in his early twenties. After a short stay in Britain, Douglas was subsequently shipped to Australia as a convict for shoplifting two woolen coats.
Although he was accused of murder, robbery, and trespassing during his lifetime, Douglas’s criminal record does not convey violent man. Rather, as Meg revealed, contemporary sources portray him as a drunkard, a depiction far removed from the dangerous dark figure who haunted the gold fields.
In the goldfields of Australia, it was easy to forge new identities. Miners and bushrangers disassociated themselves from their past and reinvented themselves. But on closer examination, the myth and reality of Douglas’s identity are almost inseparable. He was ‘a symbol, more than a man’; his skin colour had everything to do with it.
On 17 October 2017, we were joined by Tom Addyman, a partner of Simpson and Brown architects since 1998. Tom heads up the Archaeology Division of the firm and, over the years, has been involved in a number of excavations at home and abroad, including the Scottish cemetery in Kolkata where he was member of a team assembled under the auspices of the Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust.
The Scottish cemetery, which was established in 1820, is associated with the nearby St Andrews Church. Its graves and memorials provide an historical snap shot of the many Scots living and working in Kolkata during the 19th and 20th centuries. Many graves were constructed and designed by Scottish sculptors. By 2008, however, when the team began conservation work, the cemetery had become extremely overgrown.
Tom presented a fascinating overview of his archaeological involvement and the formidable practical challenges which he and other members of the team faced.
We began the semester on Tuesday 3 October 2017 with a presentation given by Marenka Thomson-Odlum who is currently undertaking an AHRC funded collaborative PhD at the University of Glasgow and Glasgow City Museums. Marenka considered the career of John Glassford (1715-1783) and examined his links with the tobacco-producing Chesapeake. Glassford flourished at a time when approximately 40 to 50% of British tobacco imports were pouring into Glasgow. As the owner of 25 trading ships, Glassford was the archetypal Glasgow Tobacco Lord but much of his business in Virginia was conducted by Scottish agents, members of an extensive business network. Indeed, it is thought that Glassford never set foot in the American colonises. How, then, did Glassford imagine his links with the Chesapeake?
To explore ideas of representation, Marenka used a family portrait of the Glassford family, as the cornerstone of the presentation. The painting was painted by Archibald McLauchlan in the 1760s and shows the Glassford family at leisure in their home at Shawfield Mansion just off the Trongate in what is now Glassford Street. Marenka argued that the painting contains important clues as to the real nature of Glassford’s business empire as well as his social and familial status. Revealing details include a squirrel hidden beneath a chair, tropical fruit, documents, reflections in a mirror and a backdrop of open parkland. The banknotes in Glassford’s hand are a pertinent reminder that he was the partner of two banks; the reflections above the heads of Glassford’s clearly flourishing daughters, depict the lofty town houses and sugar houses of Glasgow’s Trongate. An extended family was consolidated by three tactical marriages, each of which enabled Glassford to ascend the social scale. Marriage was a business proposition. The portrait reflects a family and its wealth. But perhaps most significant of all is the presence of a black man servant, not at first entirely obvious, who is standing immediately to the left of Glassford, possibly a trophy servant brought back from the plantations of Virginia. It is a reminder that in his business activities Glassford worked within a system dependent on slave labour.
The Chesapeake clearly represented a place of opportunity and wealth for Glassford, but the reality for the young Scots who managed his Virginian stores was somewhat different. As Marenka pointed out, the position of Glassford’s factors was transient and uncertain. Life in the Chesapeake might conceivably lead to partnership and property in Scotland, but the majority returned home with little money or were left to seek their fortunes in other colonies. Glassford rarely paid his factors more than a yearly salary of £ 100 and since wages were relatively low, they were generally unable to strike out on their own. Work was long and conditions poor. Glassford was an exacting employer.
Marenka’s excellent presentation generated a lively discussion.
Review by Alastair Learmont
We have now posted details for the autumn 2017 programme of the Graduate Workshop. You can find full details on our Autumn 2017 Programme page.
The series begins on Tuesday 3 October 2017 at 1 pm in Room G 16 in the William Robertson Wing, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, Old Medical School, Teviot Place (Doorway 4)
Marenka Thompson-Odlum of the University of Glasgow, will speak on:
Glassford’s Virginia: Imagining the Scottish Diaspora in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake Bay
Everyone is most welcome to attend.
We have now come to the end of our 2016/2017 programmme of Diaspora Studies Graduate Workshops. Many thanks to all our speakers who have made such a valuable contribution to this year’s series.
The Graduate Workshop will recommence in October 2017. If you would like to contribute a paper on a diaspora related topic to the 2017/2018 programme, please contact Alastair Learmont or Devin Grier ( see Contact) by 14 August 2017. You can find further details at Call for Papers