LJMU English Lecturer Michael Morris recently attended the second ever World Congress of Scottish Literatures which took place this year in Vancouver, British Columbia. The conference’s subtitle ‘Dialogues and Diasporas’ emphasised the variety of ways in which Scotland is articulated both at home and within a global context through literature in English, Scots and Gaelic.
This year marks 150 years of the confederation in Canada, though the First Nations have been on the territory for considerably longer than that. The organisers of the congress observed that the location the conference was held on was ‘unceded territory’ and a strong element of the conference was exploring Indigenous/ Scottish relations from the earliest days to the present. This included an opening session featuring Indigenous spoken word poetry and music and the launch of the Indigenous/ Scottish Studies research cluster which will explore the history of conquest and exchange. The congress was closed with an exhibition of Metis dancing believed to be a fusion of Indigenous and Scottish dance steps.
Michael co-organised a panel on Caribbean-Scottish connections with Professor Carla Sassi from the University of Verona. 2017 marks ten years since the commemoration events around the abolition of the slave trade in 2007 and the intervening years have seen a surge of interest in the topic in Scotland. Sassi’s paper considered the tensions between national history and an international phenomenon like Atlantic slavery and considered the implications for transnational memory work. Michael’s paper provided a survey and analysis of a number of forms of memorialisation which have emerged in recent years including the Great Tapestry of Scotland, the Empire Café, and the ‘Jamaica: A Sweet Forgetting’ photography exhibition. He also noted how Caribbean slavery is now woven through contemporary political debates in Scotland from both unionist and nationalist perspectives. Finally Lou Prendergast provided a stunning discussion of her own theatre practice which mixes the personal and the historical. She examined her own difficult relationship with her Jamaican father Harry, her experiences growing up mixed race in Clackmannanshire, and broadened out to take in Scotland’s wider history of empire and slavery. Lou broke with academic format to give dramatic readings from her own work during the presentation.
The panel also drew a large crowd to watch an exclusive preview of a new short film titled 1745 – An Untold Story of Slavery which will be launched at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2017. It was inspired by the discovery of adverts for Runaway Slaves found in 18th century Scottish newspapers and tells the story of two African sisters being pursued across a Highland landscape by their owner Master Andrews. The title of the film links the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 with the Atlantic context of slavery. It was written by Morayo Akande who also features in the film alongside her sister Moyo, while Master Andrews is played by Clive Russell.
It was an excellent conference and Vancouver was a stunning location. After listening to papers in the morning, delegates could go for lunch on the beach at English Bay, walk to Stanley Park (which is named after the same Lord Stanley who gave his name to the park in Liverpool), or take a craft beer tour around the Olympic Village.
The next world congress will be in Prague in 2020. In Michael’s words, ‘No bad’.