30 years of Celtic Studies

Posted on 1 October 2015

On the day the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) marks its 30th anniversary, Dr Ann Parry Owen reflects on changes at the Centre during her career, its contribution to welsh life and its role moving forward:

When the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies first opened its doors in a Georgian house on the sea-front in Aberystwyth thirty years ago I was excited to be part of a small team of researchers embarking on a brand-new project to edit the fearsomely complex poetry composed for the twelfth and thirteenth-century Welsh Princes. Looking back now I realize how privileged I was to join the staff of a dedicated research centre specializing in team-based projects - a rare thing in the humanities at that time - and to work under the inspirational leadership of the Centre’s first Director, Professor R. Geraint Gruffydd. Professor Gruffydd’s death earlier this year was a huge loss for us all, but the magnificent series of seven volumes produced by that project, Cyfres Beirdd y Tywysogion, stands as a monument to his scholarly vision.

From 1993 the Centre began to expand its activities when it moved into purpose-built accommodation adjacent to the National Library of Wales. Under its second Director, Professor Geraint H. Jenkins, three research projects were soon running in parallel, broadening the Centre’s research areas to take in the social history of the Welsh language, the visual culture of Wales, the early Celtic languages and Romanticism in Wales. The new building also housed the University of Wales Dictionary Unit which produces Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, making CAWCS a real powerhouse for Welsh Studies.

This expansion gave me the opportunity to lead my own research project, Beirdd yr Uchelwyr, with the aim of editing the vast body of manuscript poetry from the later Middle Ages. In order to achieve this I developed expertise in digital typesetting and publishing, producing a series under the Centre’s imprint which now runs to forty-four volumes, containing some of the finest poetry in the Welsh language. When I look at that row of books on my shelf I feel a huge sense of achievement in having opened up some of the hidden riches of the Welsh poetic tradition.

CAWCS’s achievements were rewarded by an outstanding result in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, which confirmed its status as an international centre of excellence in Celtic Studies. But the academic environment is constantly changing, and the challenge for us is to adapt our ways of working to respond positively to those changes. Digital technology has enabled us to reach much wider audiences by making our research freely available online. I have always been determined to maintain the tradition of academic writing in Welsh, but I am also keen for our work to be accessible to non-Welsh-speakers, and online publishing makes it possible for us to do both at the same time, as we did in presenting the work of the great fifteenth-century poet Guto’r Glyn on the website www.gutorglyn.net.

Another aspect of change in higher education which I personally welcome is the emphasis on the so-called impact of our research beyond academia, how it contributes to people’s quality of life. We have always set store by public engagement, but mainly through events held here at the Centre. In the last few years we have begun to present our research to the public across Wales, often in partnership with local societies such as the study day we held jointly with the Brecknock Society earlier this year. It’s a great source of satisfaction for me to see that my work is of interest and value to the general public.

The latest project I’m engaged in, The Cult of Saints in Wales, has a busy programme of public events which began last week with a workshop in Bangor Cathedral to mark Deiniol’s festival, and continues with another at Llantwit Major on the 7th November (see www.welshsaints.ac.uk for more details). One of my contributions to this project will be to prepare new digital editions of pieces in praise of saints by the Poets of the Princes, giving me a chance to take a fresh look at the material I worked on at the start of my career thirty years ago.

The Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) was founded by the University of Wales in 1985 and was established as a specialist research centre conducting team-based projects on the languages, literatures, culture and history of Wales and other Celtic countries. Promoted to the position of Reader in 2007, Dr Ann Parry Owen has been a member of staff at the Centre since its foundation. Her principal field of research is medieval Welsh poetry. 

This article was published in the Western Mail on Thursday the 1st of October 2015

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