|Exploring and comparing multidisciplinary approaches|
In terms of time, scope and approach, the focus and objectives of the EARTH Summer School Programme were and are of great interest to me. It appears that in exploring questions surrounding the dynamics and processes of settlement, tenure and heritages the main concerns of the Summer School paralleled many concerns of my own work which examines such themes in an Irish context.
EARTH grantee: Cronin, Nessa
In terms of time, scope and approach, the focus and objectives of the EARTH Summer School Programme were and are of great interest to me. It appears that in exploring questions surrounding the dynamics and processes of settlement, tenure and heritages the main concerns of the Summer School paralleled many concerns of my own work which examines such themes in an Irish context. My own doctoral research, “The Eye of History: Spatiality and Colonial Cartography in Ireland” focused on the role that English colonial maps had in constructing a specific image of Ireland through the tools of cartography and science, and secondly how Gaelic Irish socio-political structures were hegemonically adapted or erased through this cartographic process. My research examined the colonial cartographic trajectory from the period of late Elizabethan Ireland (c. 1580s) through to the modern-day scientific ventures of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland (1824-46).
The engagement with a wide variety of methodological, interpretive and critical tools with which to examine the different subjects under discussion throughout the course of the Summer School is something that I am familiar with from my continuing interdisciplinary work in the area of Irish Studies and Cultural Geography. The learning process for me in Proaza, however, was to see how people work within and across disciplines in different countries, in different contexts, and within different research environments. The interdisciplinary element of the EARTH Programme as a whole is an extremely valuable component as it provided the opportunity to integrate the research findings in a more holistic manner of the various subject areas to illuminate a central question or theme.
The opening up of questions concerning dynamic versus static models of agricultural practice, the construction of imaginary communities of particular societies (whether on local, regional or national levels), and finally the tensions between tradition and modernity, ideas of past and present, are all concepts that I have explored in the course of my own research, but which were examined in a new light in the course of the Summer School. The insights gained from the work particularly of Karoline Daugstad and Thomas Schippers in terms of a theoretical, ethnographical and cultural materialist approach to living landscapes and cultural ethnographies have remained with me and have spurred me on to re-examine my previous approaches to such subjects and to work on developing my knowledge-base in this area in the future.
Figure 1: ‘Ag Obair’ [transl. ‘At work/working’], Stella Frost.
Reproduced by kind permission, Art Collection, National University of Ireland, Galway.
In particular, the question of transhumance in Proaza and the history of that agricultural and social practice in the wider Asturian region was of particular interest to me as I had previously explored this practice (known in Irish as ‘bualaíocht’ [trans. Booleying]), and its representation in the context of Renaissance and early modern Ireland in two chapters of my thesis. This ‘mobile’ or dynamic pastoral economy and system of farming went against the preferred more static English model of agrarian husbandry in the Irish context, and so what was perceived as being a lack of fixed farming structures and habitation on the landscape was represented on the maps as ‘empty’ or ‘blank’ space. The representation of such space as ‘empty’ then partially enabled appropriation of land by the English administration in Ireland, and subsequent plantations as in the case of the two regions of Munster and Ulster in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, respectively. After my experience with the Summer School, I hope to incorporate ideas and that I encountered particularly from comparative ethnographic field-work on transhumance in Asturias and Norway into my own research and teaching where very similar patterns and concerns are evident in the Irish context.
After learning more about the history and processes of ethnography (particularly from the French School and upon re-reading Levi-Strauss), and following on the work of the Irish folklore scholar Stíofán Ó Cadhla, I would be very interested to pursue further research in this area with a particular focus on John O’Donovan. O’Donovan was a key figure involved with the linguistic changes and mapping that occurred with Ordnance Survey of Ireland, and through his writings one can trace an emergent discourse of ethnography on Irish culture and society, and a concern to collect and chronicle the folklore (popular customs, traditions and beliefs) of Irish society that would be later developed by the Irish Folklore Commission (1935-1971) after the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922.
Figure 2: Seosamh Ó Dálaigh recording on the ediphone from Cáit and Máire Ruiséal, Dún Chaoin, County Kerry. Photographer: Tomás Ó Muircheartaigh, c.1942. Reproduced by kind permission, National Folklore Collection, Ireland.
The work carried out during the EARTH Summer School has had a direct impact on my thinking as to how different disciplines and areas of study are taught, researched and developed in anglophone Europe. The first need is the recognition that one has to be conversant and/or to have a reading knowledge of at least one other European language to maintain an awareness of key developments in the field in other countries/universities/research centres. In my own field of interest, having French is necessary to become familiar with trends and developments in cultural geography and ethnography in particular, but after being at the Summer School I would now like to work on having Spanish as a fourth working language (English and Irish being my other languages). Secondly, the inter- and cross-disciplinary approaches of both staff and participants of the Summer School highlighted the need for collaborative efforts when working on a central research question, garnering expertise from many different disciplines in order to shed light on a previously occluded research area.
Finally, while much work has been done on the theoretical concerns of cultural geography and cultural anthropology and ethnography, the need to engage with the specificities of the material cultures of each individual landscape and community is something that I will take away with me from my experience in Proaza. There has been a concern in critical and cultural geography circles to ‘re-materialise’ our idea of what culture is as it has been felt by many commentators that research on ‘culture’ and ‘society’ has become too theorised and, by extension, too far removed from the material realities of societies and their cultures – the experience in Asturias has brought all of that home to me.
I would like to acknowledge the kind support received for my doctoral research from the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) and the Arts Faculty, National University of Ireland, Galway.