A conference report: Modernist Studies in Wales, Swansea University, 2015

Swansea University (7th September 2015): A Century On: Modernist Studies in Wales – The Inaugural MONC Conference.

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Conveners: Elaine Cabuts (National Museum of Wales/Aberystwyth University), Elizabeth English (Cardiff Metropolitan University), John Goodby (Swansea University), Emma West (Cardiff University), Diana Wallace (University of South Wales).

Modernist Network Cymru (MONC), an organisation for scholars in Wales researching modernism, held its founding conference, in the Keir Hardie and James Callaghan Buildings on 7th September, drawing 34 delegates from across Wales and the UK. Delegates were welcomed by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Martin Springer and MONC founder Emma West, who thanked RIAH, BAMS, and the Learned Society of Wales for their support. As the Swansea organiser, Professor John Goodby (pictured far right below), noted in his brief introduction, the location was wholly apposite given Swansea’s long tradition of innovation in science and the arts, including as it did the pioneering of photography in the 1840s, the first Welsh Scientific Society, the modernist poet Dylan Thomas, and the close links of Ludwig Wittgenstein with Rush Rhees, head of the university’s Philosophy Department in the 1930s.

Parallel sessions covered Modernism and war, transnationalism, gender and sexuality, geographies and legacies, and individual papers dealt with a huge variety of subjects: visual art, Dada, surrealism and the Harlem Renaissance, Welsh, Portuguese, Irish and Russian Modernism, literary journals, poetry, novels, the short story and drama.  The keynote lecture by Professor Angharad Price of Bangor University, ‘Germany: Cradle of Welsh Modernism?’, made the case for a proto-Welsh language modernism influenced by German philosophy, and was attended by over 50. Another highlight of the day for the organisers was the chance to see the fifth Dylan Thomas notebook, recently acquired by the University, in the Richard Burton Centre. As this suggests, the emphasis was fruitfully interdisciplinary and innovative, and Swansea postgraduates and staff contributed greatly to the day’s success, both in chairing and attending sessions, and in well-received papers given by Dr Rachel Farebrother, Liza Penn-Thomas, Dr Richard Robinson, and Lucy Jeffery.

Over a century on, it would seem Modernist studies in Wales is thriving, and Swansea is at their heart. In her welcome, Emma West had spoken of her hope that MONC was beginning a university-based conference-crawl around Wales, and after such an engaging and up-beat day, all attendees would surely support its return, in the not too distant future, to Swansea University.

MONC conference