Category Archives: History


Inspired by this post by an old secondary school friend (which is co-incidentally sort of about Mills) – I have been thinking a little bit about conceptions of space and how it influences us.

The author of the piece comments in the footnotes that (as a consequence of growing up in Cornwall) “for a long time [I] believed that everywhere could be divided into: Cornwall, Up-Country, North, Scotland. I think Wales somehow came under Cornwall, or perhaps Elsewhere. Anyway, it resulted in a belief that Newcastle and Birmingham were right next to each other, as indeed were Dorset and London, and that everywhere in Scotland was between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The realisation that this was not the case has resulted in an enduring fascination with pyschogeography and perceptions of place, and occasionally, some very dubious travelling decisions.”

Having also grown-up for the most part in Cornwall and, although I had previously given little thought to it being a shared conception, I also grew up with a slightly vague sense of place which consisted of: Cornwall; up-country (everything between Plymouth and London, and Wales); London; The North (everything from London to Glasgow except Edinburgh but probably including most of Ireland); and Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow & everything north of Glasgow). I also sort of absent-mindedly believe there is nothing to the west of Cornwall but The Sea (anything but the Atlantic ceases to feel like ‘real sea’) and that going east covers the entire rest of the world.
I have always considered that my sense of geography is simply very poor through lack of knowledge – I would struggle to locate most European cities on a map, am similarly bad at naming any of the old Soviet bloc countries and get considerably worse the further outside the realms of the Roman Empire you ask me to go; indeed my geography of Cornwall itself is somewhat hazy and is based entirely on up, down, and over from my home village (plus anything north of about St. Austell was suspiciously close to up-country). However, seeing a strikingly similar sense of place articulated by someone with a similar (and yet notably different) background has drawn me back to half-formed ideas in my thesis.

As part of of my research I read Katherine Clarke’s “Between Geography and History” and began to think about how time and place are entwined and separated in our writing and in that of the ancient Greeks, at the time I wanted to analyse approaches to ancient writing about Britain without really going into its meaning for more recent historiography but..

  1. How is the concept of place, when it is subjective, centred on one’s own location and judges other places based on their proximity and relevance to that location, echoed in the process of writing local history?  The local historical text is able to outline the development of the place as situated within the flow of people, knowledge and goods to and from it as well as literally describing events from that place’s point of view (in some senses this has more in common with historical writing that privileges individual actors than say process-driven historiography like Marxist writing – how does this affect how we view it?).  Although Cornish writers are often painfully aware of the peripheral status of Cornwall in relation to the political hub of London (or Rome) they are able to re-centralise it within the narrative and are often keen to do so. The idea of this historical imagination ‘mapping’ onto/paralleling the geographies constructed by Cornish peoples suggests a psychological connection as well as the overt political one though perhaps that should be considered a ‘chicken and egg’ scenario.
  2. How does this fit into the process of geographical writing and especially travelogues… Most travel narratives (and antiquarian texts especially) that I have read featuring Cornwall describe both the physical features and the historical points of interest (to be fair that was of course why I was reading them) and come from either an outsider on a journey or as a guide for tourists to the county – presumably this is because one does not describe the countryside you see everyday to someone else who sees it everyday – but I have not compared whether the spatial journeys to-and-from have an impact on the way the historical component comes across

Food for thought at any rate..

The Phoenicians and Me

I am currently re-writing part of my thesis – specifically I am trying to tease out some examples of Cornish historians who write about Phoenicians and justify their work with classical texts and trying to make some observations on trends and possible reasons for them.

It wasn’t a big part of my thesis per se since what I wanted to focus on was the role of the more traditional Greek and Roman classical civilisations on historiography. Nonetheless not only is it impossible to talk about the ancient Cornish tin trade without talking about the Phoenician myth but it turns out that one of the key uses for classical texts in building the historiography of Cornwall is “proving” that the Phoenicians came to Cornwall.
The Classical reception scholar in me is fascinated by the way that not only do the ancient works form the basis and framework for historical research but also how quickly they become cheap acontextual citations to make a point and how important the phraseology of a translation can turn out to be for the non-specialist. But…
…that is what part of the thesis was about not what the article is supposed to say.

I want to point out that there are patterns for discussing the topic and that they show us some of the key concerns of the historians involved.
Specifically, the writers always use Strabo’s description of the Cassiterides and the Phoenicians at 3.5.11 (but never mention 3.2.9 or any of his writing about Britain) and usually conflate this account with Diodorus on Belerion (5.22.1-2) . The writers also seem to regularly get entangled in issues surrounding the possible dating for the trade and exact locations for parts of the route. Even more importantly it is clear that the Phoenicians form a kind of shorthand for understanding the development of Cornish civilisation and technology.

The Cornish writers attribute improvements in the process of mining, the design of hill-forts and parts of the language to the interactions between the Cornish and the Phoenicians. This allows the writers to suggest that certain important  parts of Cornish culture had developed well before the Roman invasion and therefore that these Celts were somehow different to Caesar’s savage Britons. Like a number of historical writers of the period the writers tend to focus on the cultural legacy passed from the classical peoples to the natives rather than the existence or role of artefacts (rather handily when they are somewhat absent as in this case). In the texts that I have looked at there are some wild conjectures about the activities of the Phoenicians in Cornwall as well as more measured hypotheses but almost all of them are keen to describe the interactions as positive for the Cornish. I believe that in this way they  took their own ideas about the important parts of Cornish history and framed them into a local mythos.

Now I just need to find a way to argue that as a convincing conclusion before the end of the month.
(more SFF soon. honest.)