#FLRobert Burns: the Robert Burns MOOC

Quick look at Robert Burns: poems, songs and legacy (#FLRobertBurns) from the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow kicked off on 25 Jan, obv, for three weeks.

Who was Robert Burns? What made Robert Burns a poetic genius? And what made Robert Burns a global icon?

You’ll examine archive material, original publications and manuscripts by Burns himself, recordings of Burns songs and examples of objects used to commemorate the poet. You’ll also look at and learn to interpret a selection of Robert Burns’ works in the context of Scottish history and culture.

Setting things in a wider context, you’ll also develop your understanding of Robert Burns’s reputation – from the rise of Burns Clubs and Burns Suppers following his death, to the continuing celebration of the poet today through Burns Night, Hogmanay (New Year) and beyond.

A counterpoint to #FLfairytales and #FLwordsworth, then.

Who was – and is – Robert Burns?

Rabbie wordcloudKicking off by debunking Rabbie related mythology, the first week proper had 21 steps, the sort of thing which makes me groan. Anyway, step 1 invited a one word response on something called AnswerGarden to the question: who was Robert Burns? I went with ‘Scot’. There’s quite a nice wordcloud emerging (see right).

How are we to understand the man and his reputation? What transformed him from the ‘heaven-taught ploughman’ first discovered in the 18th century into the instantly recognised celebrity he is today? Burns occupies different roles throughout his life – poet, farmer, exciseman – and has indeed meant different things to different people at different times.

For some he is a ‘national bard’ and Scottish patriot; for others he is a major British poet; while others still might argue that Burns is a citizen of the world. Burns has also been regarded a somewhat contentious figure. His many romantic liasons, for example, have raised controversy, yet they have also provided inspiration for some of the most memorable love poetry ever written. For some Burns is more a radical figure, one who speaks on behalf of the common man (and woman).

Three things from the intro I didn’t know:

  • he brought Scots poetry back into vogue
  • he was an avid collector and editor of Scots songs, as well as writing many new ones himself
  • by the time of his death at the age of 37 he had made at least five women pregnant on at least 13 occasions and sired at least 12 children

Edwin Muir (1887–1959): Burns is ‘to the respectable, a decent man; to the Rabelaisian, bawdy; to the sentimentalist, sentimental; to the socialist, a revolutionary; to the nationalist, a patriot; to the religious, pious’.

Hugh MacDiarmid (1892–1978) ‘Mair nonsense has been uttered in his name / Than in ony’s barrin’ liberty and Christ’!

Born in 1759, in April 1783 Burns began a first Commonplace Book (a type of scrapbook or notebook), marking the beginning of his sustained endeavours as a writer. In 1786 that he published his first volume of poetry: Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, printed by John Wilson in Kilmarnock. The success of the Kilmarnock edition put an end to his supposed plans to emigrate to the West Indies. Instead he travelled to Edinburgh to promote his poetry and prepare for the publication of a 2nd edition, the ‘Edinburgh Edition’, in April 1787.

In the years that followed Burns produced several of his most famous works, however in the latter part of his life he moved away from poetry, investing much of his time and creative energy collecting and composing songs.

Burns was a freemason and wrote numerous poems inspired by and for his Masonic brethren. The Freemasons played an important part in the posthumous commemoration of the national bard, securing the tradition of the Burns supper and commissioning and/or contributing to numerous statues and memorials.

 

 

Lots of poetry reading and textual analysis!

Poet or songwriter?

We take a closer look at Burns as poet and songwriter…We also take a trip to visit our friends at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway to look at some of the publications and manuscripts held in their extensive collection, and you’ll even try your hand at transcribing a manuscript in Burns’s own handwriting. Together, we’ll examine some of the influences on Burns and his career collecting and reworking traditional songs.

Robert Burns wrote or collected two songs for every poem he produced, and was clearly both a success as a poet and as a songwriter. It is probably true to say, however, that his song-writing is thought of as a subset of his work as ‘a poet’.

  1. It is probably Burns’s love of ‘rhyme’ that led him into an increasing interest in song from poetry.
  2. However it might also be noted that his first creative production was the song, ‘O Once I Lov’d A Bonnie Lass’ (1774), and that among his earliest work is a number of other songs.
  3. Burns selected and adapted tunes for his songs, but he did not write original tunes.
  4. Many of his works such as ‘Auld Lang Syne’ or ‘A Red Rose’ were often published without music in editions of his work as though these were poems.
  5. Burns refers to himself as ‘poet Burns’ and as a ‘rhymester’ rather than as a songwriter.

Among Burns’s most celebrated songs are his Jacobite pieces, such as ‘Charlie He’s My Darling’ (from the mid-1790s), his love songs, ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ (1791) and ‘A Red Rose’ (1794), and also ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (1788). As with ‘Charlie He’s My Darling’, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ existed in a number of versions going back to the 16th century, but it is Burns who really popularises the title-phrase, ‘Auld Lang Syne’, reworking its emphasis and the material within the song. Burns made the song into something appropriate to a new age of emigration, a more universal sentiment where friends and families are rendered asunder.

What made Burns an international icon?

Hundreds of biographies, edited collections and critical studies of Burns’s life and works have been published since the bard’s death in 1796, and there are over 3000 translations of Burns’s works into foreign languages, but Burns’s literary works are just one aspect of his legacy.

Since the 19th century Burns has been celebrated at Burns Suppers, in Burns related statuary and memorabilia and at grand centenary celebrations such as those held across the globe in 1859 and 1896. Innumerable composers, artists and performers have been inspired by Burns.

Statues and public memorials to Robert Burns were being erected across the globe as early as the mid-19th century. By 1909 over 40 had been commissioned in the UK, and a minimum of five in Australia, three in Canada, one in New Zealand, and nine in the USA.

Some trivia related to Burns’s reputation:

  • Burns coined the popular phrase ‘Man’s inhumanity to man’ in his poem ‘Man Was Made to Mourn’
  • like Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, the title of JD Salinger’s famous novel Catcher in the Rye comes from one of Burns’s poems – ‘Comin’ Thro’ the Rye’
  • US President Abraham Lincoln was a real fan of Burns and could recite pieces of Burns’s poetry by heart

For dedicated fans only! It may be my heritage but I had no idea yer man was quite that huge, and it’s definitely not my period. Having said that, listening to the songs easily brings a tear to the eye.

Rabbie linkage:

#FLremaking: environmental humanities, nature and anthropocentrism

Remaking nature (#flremaking), FutureLearn’s Environmental Humanities MOOC from UNSW Australia, started 11 January for six weeks. Around 6.5K enrolled, with a great intro vid.

Learn how the new Environmental Humanities (EH) field is shaping how we understand environmental issues. You’ll get a broad overview of an emerging area of interdisciplinary research that reframes contemporary environmental challenges using approaches from philosophy, literature, language, history, anthropology, cultural studies and the arts.

EH places scientific knowledge in dialogue with the key concerns of the humanities: how people think, feel, protest, vote and create. Our main aim in this course is to consider and create new narratives about how humans and the environment relate to one another.

We’ll begin this course by identifying historical ways of thinking about the environment. Through a range of examples, we’ll illustrate how ‘nature’ is a human invention. We’ll then look at how the role of humans has been conceptualised in opposition to notions of nature, and assert that we were never at the centre, nor in control of the environment.

Having questioned these common ‘modernist’ conceptions about nature, we’ll examine some of the ways in which the natural world is being ‘remade’, both discursively (in the way we write, speak and think about it) and materially (for instance, in the alteration of DNA and the wholesale transformation of ecosystems).

Finally, we’ll ask you to join us in creating new narratives about nature that demonstrate greater care and concern.

EH at UNSW (Facebook | Twitter) has four main strands:

  • environment, technology and the politics of knowledge
  • multispecies studies and politics of life
  • social change, participatory politics and community engagement
  • rethinking the humanities through the environment

Of the eight course guides the work of Susie Pratt (artist and researcher, does sound walks; not traced), Paul Munro (Twitter; background in political ecology and historical geography) and Judy Motion (public discourses and engagement, inc #some but not self; investigating urban spaces) are of the most interest. Plus Matthew Kearnes, who doesn’t appear on the vid but blogstweets and is a co-editor of Environmental Humanities (@EnvHumanities).

What is environmental humanities?

The entanglement between facts and values, science and humanities, is at the heart of the emerging EH field. An activity in the first week asked participants to critique a newspaper article looking at the stakeholders, the kinds of knowledge being drawn upon (eg scientific, legal, aesthetic, cultural) and how scientific facts and human value systems interacted therein. This “generated some great conversations about clashes of value systems, the interaction between facts and values, and the rights of different human and non-human stakeholders”.

Next, an article by Stephen Muecke, drawing on the work of philosopher Bruno Latour, explained the shift from ‘matters of fact’ to ‘matters of concern’ as an important step in taking action to counter ecological crises:

EH investigates the relation of facts to values – no fact is born without a set of values attached, and the separation of facts from values is an artificial separation. There was something quite artificial in the way that modern Europeans separated nature off from human society and made it the domain of science. The new story we tell about nature is not about its pure scientific facts, as if they are ‘just there’, but that facts come into being for reasons like curiosity, need, concern and necessity: human emotions and needs! ‘Matters of fact’ are also ‘matters of concern’ – we can’t necessarily prioritise the one over the other. What one can do is rank matters of concern in order of importance.

Examples of EH research:

  • Eben Kirksey on Living with parasites
  • speed bumps and other traffic calming devices as anti-modernist, a technology that enforces a morality and illustrates the embeddedness of scientific facts, technology and human value systems (and the ethics of pedestrian crossings, which can be extended to shared space and related)
  • remaking nature – the humanities can help us better understand and respond to contemporary environmental challenges, and the more-than-human world offers us a new lens for rethinking some of our core understandings about humanity; creative projects such as multi-species imaginings and an awareness of the liveliness of things  (eg built environment) can remake our understanding of ‘nature’ and our place within it.

A poll then asked “how do you understand nature”? A subset of response choices hinted towards humans as having a ‘stewardship’ or even Godlike relationship towards nature, with morals and duties. Looking forward to this being addressed in week 3.

Summary of key ideas in the EH field:

  • facts are interwoven with values
  • environmental challenges are wrapped up in ‘matters of concern’
  • the humanities can aid in remaking our ideas about environmental concerns
  • ‘reinstituting the collective’ is an ongoing process for EH researchers
  • the more-than-human environment can aid in remaking our ideas about humanity and ‘nature’
  • humans are interwoven with environments

Further reading:

The invention of nature

This week, we will explore ‘nature’ as a conceptual category, introducing the idea that nature as we understand it in the West does not actually exist — it is, in fact, a European invention. We then go on to discuss some of the implications of a nature-culture division in historical and contemporary situations.

First, a “fun activity that takes you on a walk outdoors” introduced by Susie Pratt, aka Padlet time. Not a fan – this kind of stuff creating doesn’t do much for this type of learner, who prefers to take notes. We were asked to go for a walk and search for and collect (or photograph) six small objects, then sort them into two piles: natural objects and cultural ones, or place them on a continuum. “What complexities occurred when you started to divide your objects into a nature/culture binary? Dividing these items into a nature-culture binary may actually contribute to some of the complex environmental crises that we currently have today.”

On to nature as a conceptual category. Raymond Williams famously said that ‘nature’ may be the most complex term in the English language, but there are two main ways in which the term is typically used:

  • nature as essence – the fundamental or inner character, or proper functioning, of anything and everything, the essential or proper features of a thing, eg human nature, the ‘nature’ of modern architecture.
  • nature as nonhuman –  the collection of nonhuman entities in the world, eg wilderness as the purest form of nature (see William Cronon, then Dan Allosso)

Moving on to:

  • confused natures – eg  if someone says that genetically modified foods are ‘unnatural’, what do they mean? to call something ‘unnatural’ implies that it is not proper, not how it ought to be
  • the nature/culture dualism – in Western thought nature has tended to be understood as dualistically opposed to culture or humanity, those parts or places that are (relatively) unaffected by people, positioning humans as fundamentally outside nature: “the foundational delusion of the West…a dangerous doctrine, strongly implicated in the environmental crisis…the love-child of the old dominant narrative of human mastery and centrality mated with the much younger circumstance of human experience of commodification in the global city” (Val Plumwood)

Next, a vid summed up the position that rather than a dualism there is a continuum, summing up neatly (again!) what as a vegetarian I have always perceived, plus touching on speciesism. But if nature never existed in a dualised way, how far can we go with J Baird Callicott: “We are animals ourselves, large omnivorous primates…We are therefore a part of nature, not set apart from it. Hence, human works are no less natural than those of termites or elephants. Chicago is no less a phenomenon of nature than is the Great Barrier Reef.”

I’m pretty much with JBC – climate change is hence natural, stop flapping.

Other dualisms relate to eg gender, sexuality and race, include male / female, mind / body, master / slave, civilised / primitive, human / animal. Obv.

Next, four implications of the invention of nature and the nature/culture dualism:

  • mastery over nature – different examples of forms of mastery of environmental and climatic systems, from grand visions such as the construction of the Hoover Dam, to everyday mundane forms of mastery — for example, the use of air conditioners to control temperature
  • nature and power – colonisation inc British appropriation of Australian lands, justified on the basis of terra nullius (no one’s land) and the racist conception that Indigenous people did not manage and occupy the land and therefore did not have rights over it
  • nature as wilderness – a protected, romanticised area separate from and excluded from human activities, exploring how notions of wilderness are bound up in the emergence of national parks, and the problems that occur when protected ‘natural areas’ are created
  • environmental determinism – the problematic claim that environmental conditions determine the character and attributes of (geographically distinct) cultural and ethnic groups, “a thin veil for a virulent form of Euro-centric racism” – overcooked for me, usual HE discourse

The end of ‘nature’ as a conceptual category might just be the beginning of a more sustainable and ethical engagement with our nonhuman, or more-than-human, world. OTOH, has the case really been made for the damage it does?

So far the course as a whole is of a way higher level than most ‘baby steps’ style FutureLearn courses, but perhaps too much philosophy and rather trad academic in style – the four implications felt like each instructor’s pet peeve. Where’s the hums? Plus too little activity or ‘stories’ to maintain interest as a MOOC. And who would ever have thought I would have said that…

Beyond anthropocentrism

Anthropocentrism characterises a position which accepts human beings as being the most significant species on the planet. Implicitly, humans are considered to have a moral status or value higher than that of other animals due to their level of sentience, their presence of a human soul, and notions of human dignity.

Such anthropocentric perspectives are deeply embedded in many modern human cultural and conscious acts, with human considerations being at the centre of environmental concerns. Nature, seen as an external environment, is generally viewed as having instrumental values. And thus, its preservation or conservation is premised on its value for human needs, such as its use as a resource or the ecosystem services that it provides.

Anthropocentrism is often contrasted with ecocentric perspectives, a term for a wide variety of beliefs that see humans as a part of, rather than as separate from, nature. In this conception, nature is understood as having an intrinsic value, value irrespective of its use to humans, and therefore human decisions must take this into account

There are, of course, shades of grey between these perspectives. For example, a custodian approach, where humans are seen as having some obligation to protect nature for its intrinsic value, yet human concerns still remain central. A form of human exceptionalism still exists. Perspectives can also vary in terms of subjects of study and across time.

In the Environmental Humanities, we seek to unsettle strong antropocentric perspectives, challenging the assumption that humans and society are somehow being distinct and separate from nature. We explore new stories and understandings of the world and the ways in which we can start to imagine different social and environmental futures.

Summed up in this handy framework:

  • Ecocentric – nature-centred. People with an ecocentric viewpoint tend to see nature as having its own intrinsic value, with a right to exist for its own sake.
  • Custodian – being responsible for the maintenance of something. People with a custodian or stewardship approach to environment tend to feel that humans have a moral obligation to protect nature, both in the present and future.
  • Anthropocentric – human-centred. People with an anthropocentric viewpoint tend to see nature based on its value as a resource to be exploited by humans for human benefit.

Now, is this a continuum, ie do the ecocentric perceive themselves as morally superior, even to the custodians? the poll found a trend of people tending to cluster around either custodian or ecocentric perspectives. Some see humans as having a moral obligation to protect nature; others want to see humans more part of nature. If it’s the moral aspect I have trouble with, Dan A suggests splitting the middle ground into Custodians, who believe humans have a moral obligation to protect nature for its own sake, and Stewards, who want to insure nature’s continued ability to meet our needs.

Next, An ecomodernist manifesto (32pp), as an example of anthropocentrism through a contemporary example of a nature-culture dualism. The manifesto supports “nuclear power, intensive agriculture and genetically modified crops — together with the suggestion that ‘positive decoupling trends offer hope for a ‘good Anthropocene'”.’ Its central claim is that humans need to de-couple from nature:

Humanity must shrink its impacts on the environment to make more room for nature…Intensifying many human activities — particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry, and settlement — so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world is the key to decoupling human development from environmental impacts…Decoupling raises the possibility that societies might achieve peak human impact without intruding much further on relatively untouched areas. Nature unused is nature spared.

It’s a modernist concept of nature: the intensification of human activities will enable humans to extricate themselves from relations with nature.

  • can ecomodernism decouple itself from environmentalism?
  • can humanity decouple itself from nature?

See responses and Dan A (one | two | three | four): “an example of contemporary perspectives that continue to advocate a human-focused understanding of the world, perpetuating nature-culture divisions”. Piqued my interest, but sadly tl:dr.

Then a video on the Anthropocene, addressing some of the problems of this grand-planetary-scale narrative, inc what non-human agencies are also implicated in Earth futures. The concept of the Anthropocene is used as a means of raising environmental consciousness and highlighting the scale of human impact on environments, but if we wish to move beyond anthropocentric frames of inquiry is it wise to name a geological epoch after ourselves?

Next, pick a topical issue and link to an interesting news article, video or online commentary that engages with it. Do you see evidence of the nature/culture dualism and anthropocentrism at play in your issue? Two examples from the instructors, multispecies communities and liveliness (or agency) of things, are presented to offer a means of understanding or responding to your issue. There’s a dog owning thread (can’t find!) and nice accompanying article, (plus another on shared space), but you really need to engage straight away before things (and you) move on.

My issue of choice could have been Denmark’s public dissections, but couldn’t face it, particularly this week. (Plus would be going through the motions – know already how it would play out in this arena. Exhibit A: Pels-avisen.) Never mind anthropocentric, here it’s danocentric (see ethnocentrism, the belief that ‘our way is the right way’).

Generally, still pretty heavy on the theory, but from week 4 things got a bit more practical – see second post.

Doing the Danglish

In her webinar on editing non-native English Joy Burrough-Boenisch highlighted the problem of “going native” – she even felt herself going Dutch and wrote a book to stop it (| sample).  Turns out there’s even a Dunglish blog. This is interesting, as like in Denmark it’s often assumed that in the Netherlands  “everyone speaks English” faultlessly. But it is still a foreign language, and it’s all to easy to fall into more familiar patterns.

Further issues are the concept of international English or globish (see the globish text scanner), other Englishes (see Flavours of English, including EU English), and the confusions that can arise when two non-native speakers try to communicate in their own particular versions of English. At my Danish language school everyone bar the most commited switched to English in the breaks, leading to much miscommunication between students from around the world. I’ve also witnessed a number of perplexing encounters in tourist locations, where I’m often tempted to leap in to ease communication between two parties who only share English as a common language. For more, see Robert McCrum‘s Globish: how the English language became the world’s language (Amazon | article | review).

Danglish is definitely a thing:

It’s pretty easy to spot am English text which has been translated by a Dane rather than a native speaker, and while in most cases it may be “good enough”, it’s frequently jarring for native speakers and can easily lead to issues somewhere along the line, in a global game of Chinese whispers.

From here it’s not such a leap to the idea that the language you speak affects the way you behave and express yourself. For example:

  • the fact that Danish has no word for please means they only do ‘negative politeness’ and can come over as passive aggressive
  • English has a large vocabulary, with lots of ‘redundant’ words, but at the same time prefers to imply and understate
  • Denmark’s smaller vocabulary limits expression; can be repetitive and feel exaggerated/’black and white’

The Economist even held a debate on the question (78% agreed that the language we speak shapes how we think) and regularly posts articles on its Johnson or Prospero blogs on the issue (You think what you talkDo different languages confer different personalities?). The TED blog has 5 examples of how the languages we speak can affect the way we think.

This view is traced back to the early 20th century linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf and has become known as Whorfianism (or linguistic relativity) in certain circles. We now have two camps:

There probably is some horse/cart confusion going on, however the prevalence of the need for native translations plus everyday exposure to Danish discourse puts me in the Deutscher camp (great names both, mind).

I borrowed the Deutscher from the library so I could look “Danish” up in the index. There’s not much, but this is worth the effort:

the industrious Protestant Danes have dropped more consonants onto their icy windswept soil than any indolent tropical tribe

Charles the V, born in Ghent, spoke “Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse”.

In a similar vein, Using the foreign to grasp the familiar, looks at the issue of bilingual writers and emigres. You can do that even when writing in your ‘own’ language. And untranslatable words? Wishful thinking.

See also Multilinguals have multiple personalities – not hugely convincing, although as ever an interesting issue for expats and translators.

#artsaud15: New urban challenges

I’m planning on restarting my event reports series in 2016. #artsaud15 feels like a good place to start, ticking as it does the dansk, museums and urban boxes.

Arts and Audiences is a Nordic meeting point for cultural leaders, artists, artistic directors, curators, producers, learning managers, communication managers, cultural architects and strategists who want to find new ways to extend audience engagement. Arts and Audiences 2014-16 are produced by CKI (the Danish Centre for Arts and Interculture; Facebook) in collaboration with…other partners.

Thank goodness that’s sorted. I never quite worked it out in 2014 (p5), where an attempt at creating a digital audience experience fell rather flat. This year it’s in Copenhagen, from 2-3 December, with the theme of New urban challenges (programme | speakersFacebook | @artsaa) and a cover pic of people climbing ropes (it’s taking place at AFUK). Anything of interest?

Some interesting factoids to start:

  • the creative and experience industries are the second largest economic sector in Denmark with a turnover of more than DK 200 billion
  • more than 60 % of cultural turnover is generated in the CPH metropolitan area, home to a third of the population
  • every year the population of the metropolitan area increases with the equivalent of a medium sized Danish town
  • in the City of Copenhagen alone the population is growing by approx 1200 new citizens (sic) a month
  • nearly 2 million people live in the metropolitan area, of whom about 430,000 – between one in four and one in five – have their childhood and/or cultural background outside Denmark.
  • in urban Copenhagen the average age is now down to about 38 years against 54 in the rest of the country

Since 2007 Kulturstyrelsen has run a national user survey of museums in Denmark. Need to run this down.

Most of the speakers are in my demographic – there’s not much sign of the young or the ethnic, just sayin’. In the evening of Day 1 they decamped to Folehaven for Tina Enghoff’s 7 x DIALOGUES.

Day 2 didn’t yield much, and with a total of 70 tweets for the two days it’s clear amplification wasn’t part of the event strategy. Plus ça change. Coming along on 15 Dec in Kunsten.nu though, here’s a report.

#FLfairytales: HC Andersen and place

Update: Walking the same streets: Hannah’s postcard from Copenhagen

Notes from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, from the Hans Christian Andersen Centre (English) based at SDU in Odense, new on Twitter for the MOOC. Six weeks, started 19 October. New translations of nine (of a total of 157) fairy tales (defined as an original tale written by a specific author, central in German Romanticism) covering 17 years of HCA’s life (1805-75) on offer.

As with #FLwordsworth it’s the place and cultural heritage stuff I’m after – fairy tales aren’t my thing, although the one about the hens (Det er ganske vist) came as a pleasant enough surprise when I was learning Danish.

In week 1 HCA was presented as a ‘mouldbreaker’ in the established literary community, having come from a working class background, with his fairy tales both universal and culturally specific. Still read all over the world, they are rooted in a Christian culture confronted with modernity.

We were asked to take a moment to consider the man behind the writer:

  • How did he think of himself as an artist? In what way can we understand his role as a mouldbreaker in the established, literary community in relation to his background as a working class lad?
  • What is the connection between HCA’s special use of the fairy tale genre and the way his life was shaped?
  • How can we understand the fact that the author never really – not even as a confirmed celebrity – succeeded in settling down, neither in the outside world, nor in his own imaginary world?

HCA achieved fame and acknowledgement as an artist in both Europe and America while he was in his prime. He was a traveller who undertook long journeys in especially Europe, but he also reached North Africa and Turkey. In his native Denmark, he also travelled a lot, taking residence at manor houses and castles which were, at that time, significant cultural meeting places.

HCA was a restless person who did not create a home for himself but felt ‘at home’ in the journey itself. He travelled in a Europe that was getting ready to become modern. This HCA registers with both delight and fear in his writing. This is also registered in the form of artistic reflections on time, place and distance. When HCA said To travel is to live, he was not only referring to outer journeys but to travelling as a form of existence.

HCA had many homes, for home was the artistic universe and the journey itself, one could say. He travelled all over Europe, time and time again, something that is reflected in his novels, travel accounts, fairy tales and stories as a treasure trove of localities. HCA visited counts, kings and artists, locations and landscapes, because he was full of an insatiable thirst for experiences and a restless longing for the inner balance he probably found in his art, but never wholly in his life.

On 28 October the team sent out a message with details of HCA’s three autobiographies, not least The fairy tale of my life (1871): “HCA wished to present his own life as a fairy tale and wrote in a poetic style. All this lead to a “a strong interest in the personality…during his lifetime and the fantastic story of his life…the beginning of the creation of a myth surrounding the author, which appeared to be a kind of mythologization of the relation between life and art. It offers strong evidence of the romantic belief in genius.”

Then a definite tut tutting about this approach, not helped by word order and general obfuscation: “to judge Andersen from a biographical point of view only is to reduce his great and challenging work. It has been and still is the task of interpreters of Hans Christian Andersen’s life and work to adjust this picture and to try to discover his work independently of the romantic figure of the author – and not least to evaluate the modernity of his original fairy tales.”

Biographies (which the team may/not approve of) include Jackie Wullschlager (2000; Amazon) and Paul Binding (2014; reviewAmazon). Internationals in Denmark in particular will enjoy Michael Booth’s Just as well I’m leaving (2005; Amazon), his first riff on Denmark and its idiosyncracies, framed round HCA’s European travels.

The fairy tales

Week 2 looked at the folk tale inspiration and two analysis models (how many?), comparing The tinderbox and the Grimms’ The blue light with the folk tales that provided inspiration:

  • the actantial model: the quest
  • the narrative pattern ‘home-away-home’, also found in the Bildungsroman

actuant

The protagonist – or hero – of the folk tale is the key element. The upper axis represents the fact that a donor gives an object to a receiver – the latter being the protagonist. This is often the king which gives his daughter, the princess, to the protagonist. The lower axis represents the fact that the protagonist has to overcome various obstacles in his quest for the object and that he will have to face and conquer an antagonist and will receive assistance from a helper as a part of this process.

Much was made of HCA’s humour and irony, plus the violence found in many tales, all of which I’m thinking has a specific Danish flavour, although the Grimms had their moments.

Week 3 contrasted two versions of the same tale, drawing out HCA’s particular narrative style and language:

The spectre (1830) adopted the sophisticated style typical of the literary fairy tales (Kunstmärchen) developed by German Romanticism (writers like Chamisso, Tieck and ETA Hoffmann), whose approach was often marked by ironic reflection. Far from reproducing the impersonal style of the folk tale, The spectre was a piece of literary art, showing the signature of a cultivated writer cumulating explicit references to the Arabian Nights, the Bible, Goethe and Danish contemporary authors.

Its reception, however, was negative, with HCA accused of having missed “the epic tone” of the folk tale. Disappointed, HCA gave up this kind of experimental rewriting and decided to revisit the folk tale genre as part of a literary project of another kind: storytelling for children.

The travelling companion (1835) adopted the more familiar form of the folk tale. HCA purified and simplified his narrative style, aiming to revive the folk tale material and to refresh its imagery. The style resulting from this effort became HCA’s special signature, and to some extent imitates the tone of the folk tale. Nonetheless, he still wrote literary fairy tales. His art was to develop a strategy of storytelling that appears to be simpler than it is.

The ‘exemplary’ analysis of The Spectre makes it sound a gadzillion times more interesting than the more popular fairy tale, almost modernist, a fairy tale about a folk tale. Chief linguistic differences highlighted are general verbosity and description – place and nature writing, very on trend! – vs simplifying the artistic expression.

Week 4 and The little mermaid (1837), one of HCA’s first self invented tales. These meant something special to him and marked his breakhrough as a writer, making him an international star. The tale touches upon traditional questions related to Christianity and ‘modern’ questions such as the identity crises of the main subject. It doesn’t conform to the models (above), doesn’t have a Happy Ending and is open to many interpretations. OTOH Disney’s 1989 version does, and isn’t.

Published along with The emperor’s new clothes, now that is a good one.

Week 5 focused on HCA’s ‘modern’ approach, via two new fairy tales: The story of a mother (1847) and The snow queen (1844):

From 1835-42, HCA carried out his project of writing a series of Fairy tales told for children with increasing success. However, in 1843, he gave his work with the genre a different orientation. The appellation ‘told for children’ disappeared as he published a collection entitled New fairy tales, composed of four tales of his own invention without any immediate debt to folk tales, including The ugly duckling.

In these tales HCA managed to raise religious questions by the means of apparent transgressions of genre conventions, eg qualifying tests, the fight with the antagonist, religious meaning…His intention was to fictionalise – or allegorise – a ‘basic idea’,  a project completely incompatible with the folk tale’s perception of the world.

Week 6 looked at The red shoes (1845) and invited participants to write an essay on HCA’s topicality and cross-cultural relevance, quite interesting as it goes. A quick look at the sections on The red shoes confirms that it is just as traumatic as remembered.

The longer the MOOC went on the more distressing the tales became – are the later ones read to children today, undoctored? Part of the Danish canon? They seem to belong to another time, with the illustrations on the MOOC and most collections evoking the last century.

Perhaps as a result retellings abound – see Angela CarterTransformations (1971; Anne Sexton’s retellings of the Grimms; article inc a diagram by Kurt Vonnegut) and A wild swan and other tales (2015; Michael Cunningham retells the Grimms and HCA; “The steadfast tin soldier turns out happy”; interview). Also Marina Warner’s Short history of fairy tale.

The course took a standard litcrit line, seemingly very popular in Danish higher education, however more innovative approaches must be around somewhere, for example #corpus analyses, distant reading, dataviz of the models? A social network of the Golden Age, based on who HCA rubbed shoulders with, not least Kierkegaard? Should anything be read into the fact that the last conference seems to have taken place in 2005, the year of his bicentenary? Also, how about HCA’s reception and (re)interpretation in Denmark, influence on eg Lars von Trier? How much are his other writings read and performed today? While at rejse er at leve gets cited fairly frequently in newspaper travel sections, is it more than a quote?

As Most Famous Danes HCA and contemporary Kierkegaard make a troubling pair. What is quite fun is that both enjoyed a walk in the city, but while Kierkegaard relished his menneskebad HCA became an old snob, preferring to hobnob with the nobility, or to travel.

HCA and place

HCA plays a key role in Denmark’s (rather limited) literary tourism offerings, focused exclusively around the fairy tales. See Visit OdenseVisit Fyn and HCA’s Odense (app and PDF) for full coverage. I have paid duty visits to his hus (aka museum, opened 1908) and barndomshjem (childhood home, opened 1930) in Odense, officially Denmark’s fairy tale city – even the pedestrian crossings pay homage.

It’s possibly all a bit much, a theme explored by KØS, the museum of public art, in their tour of Denmark’s memorials. See the talking statue version of the 1888 HCA statue in the city and accompanying debate.

pedestrian crossing in Odense

pedestrian crossing in Odense

HCA left Odense in 1819 aged 14 for the big city. He lived in countless/18 places during his 56 years in Copenhagen – see Indenforvoldene for details. Highlights include the kvistværelse (attic room) at Vingårdsstræde 6, now part of shopping mecca Magasin’s museum, where he lived from 1827-28, and three locations on Nyhavn. From 1834-38 he lived at nr 20 – an unreadable plaque marks the spot on the first floor. From 1848-65 he lived at nr 67, and from 1871-73 at nr 18 (reconstruction), now housing an HCA themed shop in the ground floor, plus smart apartments owned by the National Bank upstairs. He is buried in Assistens Kirkegård.

There are two statues in CPH, on HCA Boulevard and in Kongens Have. The eternally disappointing Little mermaid perches on a rock on Langelinie (1913, a gift from Carl Jacobsen) – the domestic reaction may perhaps be seen in Bjørn Nørgaard’s genetically modified twin, installed just round the corner in 2006. We also have Hanne Varming’s Hyldemor on Kultorvet, and the story of The Ugly Duckling appears on Carlo Rosberg’s mural in Hvidovre town hall.

HCA elsewhere

Museums Odense offers full details of HCA’s travels, with 30 itineraries from 1831-73 and contemporary maps. Having done a double take in Bratislava in December it’s nice to confirm that HCA visited Pressburg on 3 June 1841 on his way home (journey 6). When asked to write something about the city he said that there was no need to, as it was already a fairytale. Bless.

HCA statue in Bratislava

HCA statue in Bratislava by Tibor Bártfay, erected on the 165th anniversary of his visit in 2006

Another anecdote to enjoy is HCA’s relationship with Dickens. A search brings up their first meetings in London and Ramsgate, and then HCA’s doomed visit in 1857, where he over-stayed his welcome by nearly a month (story).

At rejse er at leve has a full list of his travel writings for further exploration, while writing about Denmark includes Fodreise fra Holmens Canal til Østpynten af Amager i Aarene 1828 og 1829 and Fodrejsen (1829).

Linkage:

#FLwordsworth and place

Updates: see The Romantic poets and Bristol, with 23 new Lyrical Ballads, a series of Coleridge Lectures inc Kathleen Jamie on Poetry, the land and nature and Melissa Harrison on Reimagining the city, a nature writing day and a walking guide. Also a series of historical walks at Being Human 2015, fab…Romantic landscapes: geography and travel (event report)

William Wordsworth: poetry, people and place (courseTwitter), from Lancaster, on FutureLearn, started on 7 September for four weeks.

Explore the influence of the Lake District on Wordsworth with this free online course, filmed at his home…Through readings and discussions focusing on Grasmere and the landscape of the Lake District, the course will explore why this location was so important for Wordsworth.

Wordsworth lived at Dove Cottage in Grasmere from 1799 to 1808, producing much of his greatest work, including ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ (aka Daffodils) and The Prelude. As an intro we are invited to pen a poem about a favourite place in the Romantic style and share it on #some tagged #NaturesPoets. So it looks like it’s more about the poetry, which I hated at school, than (the) place, which as a Scot I find rather tame, but we shall persevere, in particular as one of the team, Sally Bushell, was behind Mapping the Lakes (and v2) and is writing a book on reading and mapping.

Introducing Wordsworth and Lyrical Ballads

Week 1 is made up of 16 steps, yikes. Most useful is Sally on key principles of the ‘Preface’ to Lyrical Ballads (1800), identifying Wordsworth’s four key ideas:

  • the poet – “a man speaking to men”, ie a communicator speaking on behalf of others representing ‘the common man’, speaking directly to all rather than a writer, no different from you or I
  • subject matter:
    • the everyman, equally capable of feeling deeply and responding to the world; “it is not just gentlemen who have strong feelings…those living a rustic life have a truer, more authentic relationship to the land”
    • common things and situations
    • place, ie the world around you – celebrating the power of the mind to internalise the natural world and be strengthened by it, asserting the power of a subjective, individual response; Wordsworth liked a private space, where he could pace up and down as he wrote his poetry; he often wrote poems on the spot, in a direct response to the natural world
  • language – as close to everyday speech as possible, but with a certain colouring of the imagination to freshen the experience
  • “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”; it should communicate directly and to the heart

Also a useful PDF on close reading poetry and a vid on how to read and interpret manuscripts, stressing context and their uniqueness.

Sadly the two poems for the week have simply served to remind me of my issues with the Romantics, but it’s all very well done, even with a ‘make your own manuscript’ task. Best takeaway so far has been the brief account of Will and Dorothy’s trip to Germany in 1798 – I have a feeling he visited Copenhagen too. (Hmm…at the very least he wrote a poem called The Danish Boy and owned a copy of Molesworth.)

‘Spots of time’: childhood, education and memory in The Prelude

The week 1 round-up states that “Wordsworth has evoked powerful responses, not all of them favourable” and Sally admits in the summing up vid that he is uniquely polarising, so I feel partly vindicated in skipping the pomes. Maybe I will re-visit epi 3 of The Trip, which I haven’t watched yet this year. There’s more than one form of engagement in these changing times…

OK, week 2, with The Prelude and its 24 manuscripts spanning over 40 years.

Central to The Prelude are the two themes of childhood and memory. While much of the poem describes Wordsworth’s childhood adventures in the Lake District, the poet is equally concerned with how he remembers these episodes and what ongoing influence they have in his adult life. Wordsworth describes his most influential childhood episodes as ‘spots of time’…key moments in our life that continue to have an important influence on us, especially if we reflect back on them.

‘Spots’ are powerful memories where you can’t quite get to the root of that power, often involving an element of transgression, making you see the world differently – plus a process of defamiliarisation or even distortion when remembered. The spots themselves are often visual, and not a continuous memory.

From the week 3 email and summing up vid it’s clear that the team just love the Padlet exercise for the week, seemingly FutureLearn’s new thing: “Wordsworth’s concept of ‘spots of time’ has been inspirational for many of you and we’ve been particularly struck (and sometimes moved) by participants’ descriptions of their own ‘spots of time’.”

There’s also a make your own Goslar Letter task, which asks:

  • How does the letter-form affect your response to the poetry?
  • What difference does it make to read the poem in this context?
  • How important is Coleridge (the recipient of the letter) to Wordsworth, as the first reader of this poetry?

The letter was a joint production from William and Dorothy to Coleridge, and is named after the German town in which it was written. It contains passages of poetry that would eventually be included in The Prelude. Very nice! In particular that the MOOC isn’t all about discussing.

‘Michael’ and Greenhead Gill: Wordsworth and the importance of place

Week 3 visited Greenhead Gill near Grasmere, the setting and inspiration for ‘Michael’, Wordsworth’s tale of a shepherd, first published in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800):

About half a mile from Wordsworth’s house, it was also the place in which the poem was written. At the opening of the poem Wordsworth invites us to come to this place and think about the poem being set and written there – it’s very space specific. He describes the fields and hills as a living being even more than his own blood. It’s almost as if Michael is a human embodiment of the landscape…

Wordsworth wrote the poem in a sheepfold. He takes this sheepfold, an ordinary, everyday object we might take for granted or overlook, and turns it into the key symbol for the poem, loading it with human meaning and emotion and significance. The poem makes you notice the sheepfold – it makes you think about it, an ordinary thing. So loading that ordinary object with meaning is making it stand for something greater than itself – it becomes a symbol. The role and meaning of the sheepfold as symbol changes throughout the course of the poem…

Is Michael’s relationship to the place unique and special or universal? Think about the ways in which we connect to the place in which we live, or the place in which we were brought up, and how this shapes our identities.

It’s a tragic tale, and by the end of the poem there is no trace of Michael’s cottage – nothing remains except the poem telling the story. (They weren’t called the Romantics for nothing…)

Next up, a personalising place exercise (NFM) to be posted on this week’s Padlet wall, while in manuscripts corner we looked at Wordsworth’s difficulty in writing the poem as well as writing outside. By linking the writing of the poem in the sheepfold to the representation of place in the poem he creates multiple layers of meaning:

He doesn’t just wander about aimlessly or roam the hills. He does have very specific sites and also he likes to walk up and down, sort of pace up and down, and various critics have make the point that the rhythm of the poetry that he’s writing is then sort of matched to the rhythm of his walking.

How important is setting and context for writing or working well? Can you think of examples in your own life of working better in one place than another, or of needing certain things around you or having particular rituals before settling to write?

Being Dorothy

Week 4 (24 steps!) explores the process of homemaking and engages more fully with Dorothy’s life and work.

The siblings arrived in Grasmere in December 1799 and established a household at Dove Cottage – see from Goslar to Grasmere. They made it into a ‘true home’ through their domestic arrangements, through cultivating the garden and through their writing. They also established a sense of community, frequently visited by friends.

Their writing included letters, such as one written by William to Coleridge on Christmas Eve in 1799, which is compared and contrasted with his unpublished poem, Home at Grasmere:

What differences in response to the Wordsworths do you experience between reading the account of coming home in prose and in poetry? What does the writer choose to emphasise, and why, in each case? How does the form (a private letter a poem written for publication) and sense of audience (to a close friend; to all readers) affect the writing?

See Letters of Note and Davy Letters for more letters, plus:

Think about how important letters have been in your own lives. Are there particular letters that you remember vividly? What role did letter writing have in your life and has this role been taken over now by email and social media? Is there something different about the experience of writing and receiving a letter to these forms of communication?

William and his friends are generally referred to as The Wordsworth Circle. In the summer of 1802 William, Dorothy and their close friends, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mary and Sara Hutchinson, carved their initials into a rock face, aka ‘The Rock of Names’ – the importance of inscription and the naming of places as a process of settling in to somewhere.

Marking local objects is important for the Wordsworths in developing their sense of home. The rock, now in the garden of Dove Cottage, was halfway between the cottage and Coleridge’s lodgings at Greta Hall in Keswick, hence a literal meeting place and personal landmark, symbolic of their friendship and illustrating their relationship to landscape…Have you created any names or nicknames for special places? Think about the type of places you named, how you named them and who uses these names.

Other Wordsworth places that took on special meanings:

  • Sara’s Gate – named after Sara Hutchinson and described in a joint letter
  • John’s Grove’  named after William and Dorothy’s younger brother
  • Wordsworth’s Poems on the naming of places – marking local objects, naming them at a particular site where they can see a very nice view of the landscape, maybe along a favourite walking route or where a particular memorable incident happened (see also William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes (1810/35), reviewed by Virginia Woolf, and Longfellow’s Poems of places anthology; 31 vols)

What do you notice about the process of naming? What different elements are involved? How do you think the different stages involved in the naming process contribute towards place-making? Naming as a kind of ‘possession of the local’ – what do you think this means? What are the positive and negative elements of taking possession of the local landscape and of local meanings?…

[Inscription] marks our being in a particular place at a particular time, celebrating a code of the private known to a few… a kind of possession of the local…relying on the fact that people won’t know them…it’s about personalising place…ordinary objects that could be easily overlooked…

So their relationship between landscape and writing is operating at a number of levels here. They’re marking the landscape, carving their names into it. They’re naming the landscape, giving these particular places special names, and they’re also writing about the landscape…for the Wordsworths, a sense of place and particularly home is something that has to be made, and it has to be practised. And it also has to be shared by a very close group of friends, and it requires a very active relationship between the landscape and those that use it…a shared use of landscape can enhance friendship and friendly experiences in places can bring forth feelings of togetherness, community, and a sense of home…for Dorothy, these names are particularly important because she uses them in a very specific way to recollect feelings of friendship – the names are as important as the places.

Dorothy wrote a journal in Grasmere between 1800 and 1803, recording her and William’s life in Dove Cottage, writing about the natural world, the people she met and those who lived in the village, and about William’s poetry. The MOOC concluded with that old favourite, a comparison between her account of seeing daffodils in 1802 and William’s account of the same incident in his most famous poem, ‘I wandered lonely’, written in 1804 and published in two versions (1807 and 1815).

How would you describe the way that Dorothy’s journal entry is written? What does she tell us in this passage about her daily life, her social circle, and the mundane physical experience of walking? Consider the encounter with the daffodils particularly. How does Dorothy come upon them? What is her relationship to them? How does she describe them? Do you think that there are aspects of this journal entry that are poetic? Do bits of it seem more like poetry than prose?

The wrap-up vid explored the importance of walking to the Wordsworths, for example as offering a sense of arrival after an epic and memorable event (on arrival in Grasmere), but also as an activity they chose for its own sake. Walking in (and into) the Lakes was part of their process of ‘claiming’ and (place)making a home. Also, in 1790 while at Cambridge William walked 1000 miles across Europe over the course of three months, taking in not least Revolutionary France, but also Switzerland and Italy. Some of his poetry (and Coleridge’s) has the meter of a walking pace within the lines.

Thorougly enjoyable and thought provoking throughout, even without going near the dreaded poetry!

For the record, there was a fair amount of Wordsworth (and Coleridge) at Placing the author. See also Mapping ‘Wordsworthshire’: a GIS study of literary tourism in Victorian Lakeland. And while we’re touching on poetry, here’s CAMPUS Poetry School, the social network for poets.

More tangible things

Week 2 of  Tangible Things (@tangiblethings | Facebook) considers the value of stopping to look at things around you, specifically A toga in the archive, exploring clothing and contemporary political, economic and social phenomena, and John Harvard’s toe:

Just looking is never enough. Question what you see.  Questions about John Harvard’s statue take us many directions—to art, to early American history, and to the Houghton Library. The John Harvard statue also invites us to look at how the meaning of a person or an event changes over time. His memorial was created nearly 250 years after his death, raising the question of what aspects of his life were being remembered and what was being forgotten.

John Harvard’s statue helps us to consider the difference between history and what scholars call “memory,” or the ways in which people memorialize the past.  Memorials acquire new meanings from the ways history is remembered, imagined, or forgotten over time.

Find a memorial, monument or statue in your own area. Consider when it was made, what it commemorates, and how it has changed over time. In what ways is its history like and unlike that of the John Harvard statue? If you can, include an image.

Here’s my post and draft on memorials.

Week 3! Looks at some of the ways people have brought things together into purposeful collections to preserve memory, promote commerce and define culture.

Given up on the social side – feels anonymous and impersonal. Needs curating.

First, a look at collections organised around a specific person or a place (see also Placing the author). Such things may seem personal and local, but can also lead to broader themes. Points from the vid:

  • room interpreted (sic) as a bedroom although it was a dairy
  • layering of different histories – what’s left out?

Memory making:

That’s what a good memory maker does. You don’t see the labor that goes into creating it. And it’s pieces of the past, fragments of the past, bits of oral tradition, artifacts, documents that they pieced together so patiently. And by looking closely, we can trace some of those fissures and cracks, and we can begin to understand that history in a much deeper way beyond just the memory.

Exercises:

  • describe an object; what aspects of family history may have been forgotten?
  • often the achievements of male inhabitants are highlighted rather than that of the women who preserved the house or persons of color who labored there or contributed to the family’s possessions – select a museum or historical site in your own area and consider whether it too might contain evidence ‘hidden in plain sight’

Next up, the museum in a box, used in American schools in the 19th century to teach children about “useful things”:

It appears systematic, but on close examination we discover the impossibility of confining any group of objects to just one story, to just one category.

Which appears to be the message of the MOOC so far. The discussion question: Choose a museum that you have visited. What were its objectives? How do those goals influence the organization and display of objects?

The museum in a box is related to world fairs and the categorisation of knowledge. Hence the exercise is to create a modern day drawer for the box, on Pinterest or Dropbox.

Week 4 considers methods of rearranging objects to create new ways of thinking. This  sounds interesting and has big crossovers with librarianship, however I’m off on holiday so will need to run through the last two weeks double quick on return.

First up, how anthropology museums have confronted the ways their own collections reflect the conquest of native peoples, then a look at how natural history collections are conventionally organised around material attributes. The team has been involved in connecting objects to things from other kinds of collections in order to situate them in human history, and in adding ‘guest objects’ to three popular galleries.

  • If you had the opportunity to add a ‘guest object” to each of the three galleries that we examined, what would you choose? If possible select things with which you have direct experience and explain how they might alter, enlarge, or disrupt the meaning of the current exhibits.
  • If you were to create a museum, what would it be about and how would you organize it?

Week 5 looks at organising collections by broad theme rather than through traditional taxonomic categories, allowing us to see new meanings and new connections. The Time and Time Again exhibit moved beyond conventional museum boundaries to bring a variety of objects together around a single theme, showing the complexity of something as fundamental to human experience as time:

  • Find and list at least three time-keeping strategies or devices in your own environment that are not included in the Time and Time Again catalog
  • Consider the different ways you experience time. Which are more culturally influenced and which are more biologically rooted?

An early 2oth century sewing machine showed the impossibility of containing the meaning of a single object in just one collection – almost any object can connect aspects of the past that often seem unconnected, and even an ‘ordinary’ object can open up multiple ways of understanding the world and the people in it. There’s an awful lot of stuff on sewing machines, where I was looking for some sort of conclusion. The content was fine, but it didn’t really go anywhere and there was little theoretical background. Plus it was really really American. Maybe the team were present in the discussions, but the absence of any form of weekly wrap-up or any email contact meant the whole thing feel very anonymous.

Object-based learning (case studies | research) is, of course, a thing.

Taking this forward by a review of the museums just visited in Poland in the light of my museum MOOC experiences.