Copper Day was an unexpected development of the ESRC Global and Local Worlds of Welsh Copper Project that I am currently working on at Swansea University. In addition to the summer exhibition, the development of web-accessible resources on copper history, digitisation and liaison with project partners and other bodies, Copper Day has emerged as probably what most people will remember the project for. It was initially an idea raised to respond to what some thought of as a rather elitist event held last October at the National Waterfront Museum on History, Heritage and Urban Regeneration. This was organised jointly by the project and the Institute of Welsh Affairs. That day had a specific aim in mind and that was to raise the issues surrounding heritage-led regeneration, what this has meant for other areas of Britain such as Cornwall and New Lanark in Scotland, and what this could mean in the future for Swansea. However, there was still a need to address how to satisfy a growing thirst for information on Swansea’s global copper heritage. What began as an idea for a ‘free people’s meeting to discuss things’ has ended up as, thanks to the willing and voluntary contributions and efforts of several individuals and organisations, a city-wide free festival of all things copper. On Saturday 5 March, (parts of) Swansea will once again (metaphorically) hear the clatter of the copperworks and (with no threat to health) smell the smog that choked the valley that was at the centre of a world industry for almost two centuries. From the Big Screen in Castle Square to the Richard Burton Archives at Swansea University, we hope there will be something for everyone.
On Thursday 16 December at 4pm I shall be giving a paper to this title for the Centre for the Comparative Study of the Americas (CECSAM) at Swansea University.
This will be the first time I have delved into a brand new region’s material culture since my foray into medieval southern Italy for my PhD. My learning curve has been steep and I hope that I do justice to the work of scholars of Latin America on which I will be heavily relying. However, this paper will not be about Wales’ relationship with Latin America during the boom years of the world copper industry in the middle two-thirds of the 19th century, but will rather suggest how this relationship can be interpreted through objects. Through the project I am currently working on, the Global and Local Worlds of Welsh Copper, I am tasked with doing just this. It isn’t just the Latin American connections that need to be made tangible through the objects and illustrations we will feature in the forthcoming exhibition at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea in July 2011, but those closer and farther from Wales such as Australia, South Africa, Anglesey and Cornwall. How can this story be told through the things that remain to us? Copper wasn’t the only thing that connected Latin America to Wales. The well-known Monkey-puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana, previously known as Chile Pine in Britain), native to Chile and Argentina, came to the British Isles in the 1850s and a handsome specimen was planted in the estates of Singleton Abbey, previously the home of copper magnates the Vivians, now the core of Swansea University. Did the copper connection bring this particular one to Swansea?
This paper will give me the opportunity to talk about my intellectual approach to choosing objects for exhibitions (and for history writing) and provide a discrete case-study to do this. To be a little out of my comfort zone with a new region’s history will sharpen, I hope, my questions and improve my answers. The title is in homage to copper’s elemental number, 29, and my expectation that 29 key objects can tell the story of the world of Welsh copper.
An enhanced version of my slideshow presentation will now form a part of the 2011 Swansea Latin American Association (Asociación Latinoamericana de Swansea Swansea Latin American Association) festival at the Dylan Thomas Centre where people will be able to learn about the Welsh-Latin American copper connections.
In a little under two weeks I shall be starting a new job in the department of History & Classics at the University of Swansea. I will be Research Assistant on an ESRC-funded project entitled, History, heritage, and urban regeneration: the global and local worlds of Welsh copper. Project Leader, Prof Huw Bowen, won the £95,000 funding for this project which will be conducted in partnership with the University of Glamorgan, the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and the City and County of Swansea.