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Runes: migration, place names and identity

Scott, Jeremy and Lawes, Steven (2022) Runes: migration, place names and identity. Runes, 25 Aug 2022, The Ironworks Arts Centre, Southend. Exhibition, website and accompanying publication (forthcoming). (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:103621)

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In the wake of Brexit, there has been a high profile anti-migration sentiment that has found a home in some parts of our culture and society. 2 of the boroughs of the Thames Estuary (Thurrock and Castle Point) were in the top 5 localities to vote in favour of Brexit (72.3 and 73.7% of the vote share for “leave” respectively. In the subsequent four years, reported hate crimes more than doubled in Essex. We believe that part of the problem which has caused this is a lack of knowledge about the origins and roots of England itself. Awareness of who our descendants are and where they came from has dropped out of public consciousness and celebration; we do not appreciate the significance of the many waves of migration that have crafted our unique island, and it’s language and cultural identity.

We propose that part of the remedy to this problem will be found at the local level, through creative exploration of local heritage. We want to help people to learn about the locality in which they live, its name’s meaning, and the stories embedded and hidden beneath the names of places. To this end, Lawes had designed a series of murals on large boards, using Anglo-Saxon Runes and the original name of specific local places in the Old English language, i.e BEOM FLEOT (Benfleet) , THUNORS LEAH (Thundersley) to demonstrate to people how migration has crafted and benefited the place in which they live at present.

To accompany the murals, Scott has written a series of stories and poems related to the place names to give a historical, fictional and human perspective on the place names - a reimagining and retelling of the stories behind these place-names. The writing is from the perspective of characters who may have had a part in the creation of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms, and from the author's own personal perspectives and memories of the area. All of this written material is available online via a QR code, as well as some historical information about the place names.

Further to this, we hosted an information dissemination event, at which we set up the murals in a local town centre (probably Southend) with an activity and information about local place names and history. Passers-by had the opportunity to learn how to write their own name and their town’s name in runes, about how this writing system came here with the Angles and Saxons, and how our language evolved from an earlier Germanic language system. They were also able to read Scott’s creative work and were encouraged to contemplate the humanity of the people who came to this island in the 5th and 6th centuries. They gave feedback as to how much of this information they knew before, and whether or not learning from this event had affected their stance on migration issues in the UK.

The key to this idea lies in the ‘foreignness’ of the runes; the symbols will seem unfamiliar, and yet once people learn about them, they see that the meaning embodied within them is as close to home as is possible to get. Peoples’ homes and sense of identity are important to them. When confronted with the name of that place in an unfamiliar yet (crucially) native script, they are prompted to consider the people who came before them to that area, paving the way for them to live the lives they do today.

Scott and Lawes have collaborated on researching place names, their changes over time, and their pronunciation/meanings. Scott wrote creative poetic and prose interpretations, using his knowledge of English literary traditions. Both worked on the heritage/historical interpretations to accompany this.

Our objectives and short term goals are fairly simple: we want to inform people about their local area and its origins; to utilise the runic writing system as a method to show people the ‘foreignness’ of their own origins; and to attempt to educate people on the history, and value, of migration to this island. We want to find out how well informed people are about their national and local history and its origins - and we want to be able to do that in a manner that is accessible, informative and fairly rapid.

In the medium and long term, we would like to see the project replicated in other areas; this can be done almost anywhere with a name in England (you can even adapt it to use Ogham script for places with Celtic names). We would also like to add to any educational material made during this project, and use runes as a jump-off point for cross-curricular arts/local and ancient history projects at KS2 and KS3. As far as possible future scope is concerned, the sky is the limit, as at its’ essence this project is the of a simple combination of an effective visual stimulus mixed with dialogue around people’s local history.

The social and cultural impacts of this project might include changed perspectives, an opening up of a dialogue about migration that is positive and outside of the stigma of xenophobic discourse, and the popularising of an ancient writing technique.

To gather evidence of our impact, we measured our outcomes in the following ways: finding out what people know about England’s past; simple tally ‘yes’ and ‘no’ series of questions about people’s knowledge of England’s history and origins; ‘Tracking’ where the information is going to - keeping a tally list of the town names we translated for people; How many people encountered the stories - web page visitor numbers and a tally of on-the-day participants; Collecting email addresses and sending follow up feedback; Asking for written testimonials.

All of this data has been collated in a post-project report.

Item Type: Show / exhibition
Uncontrolled keywords: Creative writing, Visual arts, Creative heritage, Exhibition, Public engagement, Identity, Narratives
Subjects: N Visual Arts > ND Painting
N Visual Arts > NX Arts in general
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Depositing User: Jeremy Scott
Date Deposited: 07 Nov 2023 15:58 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2023 16:15 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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