contributor.author: Andrea Schutz

title.none: Herbert and Murray, eds., Retrospect and Prospect (Andrea Schutz)

identifier.other: baj9928.0412.016 04.12.16

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Andrea Schutz, St. Thomas University, schutz@stthomasu.ca

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Herbert, Maire, and Kevin Murray, eds. Retrospect and Prospect in Celtic Studies: Proceedings of the 11th International Congress of Celtic Studies Held in University College, Cork, 25-31 July 1999. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2003. Pp. 128. $40.00 1-85182-770-6. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.12.16

Herbert, Maire, and Kevin Murray, eds. Retrospect and Prospect in Celtic Studies: Proceedings of the 11th International Congress of Celtic Studies Held in University College, Cork, 25-31 July 1999. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2003. Pp. 128. $40.00 1-85182-770-6. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Andrea Schutz
St. Thomas University
schutz@stthomasu.ca

The International Congress on Celtic Studies, held every four years, habitually revolves around a central theme explored in plenary sessions and sectional sessions open to all aspects of the discipline. In the case of the 11th Congress, the discipline itself provided the subject. Such examination was timely. The congress "reflected a conjunction of temporal milestones": the fortieth anniversary of the congress itself, and the lapse of twenty years since the itinerant congress was last held in Ireland. It was time, Herbert argues in her introduction, for a stock-taking of the "diversity and expansion" of Celtic Studies. This monograph therefore contains the six plenary papers--three on "Retrospect"; three on "Prospect"--by very distinguished scholars in the field.

T. M. Charles-Edwards's paper, "Views of the past: legal and historical scholarship of the twentieth century" reviews modern constructions of the histories of Ireland, Scotland and Wales as partaking in the era of grand national history (early twentieth century), a second era of deflating such histories (mid-twentieth), and a third era returning to "grand history," this time with student readership in mind (around 1970). At the same time, Charles-Edwars notes, these later histories are examples of a more inclusive story, a history of a whole people, and not just the elites or political figures at the top.

In "Between Cardiff and Cork: scholarship on medieval Welsh literature since 1963" Marged Haycock surveys the list of desiderata articulated at the first Congress on Celtic Studies. She notes that quite a few items on that list have in fact been accomplished, and so surveys the field's own stock-taking in retrospect. She notes also, however, that many other studies and areas of inquiry not dreamt of have been accomplished as well, testifying to the vivid interaction between past and present in the field.

The last essay in the retrospect section comes from Sean O Coileain: "Society and scholarship: Irish in the modern world." O Coileain's paper addresses the state of and circumstances affecting the teaching of modern Irish: official language policies, which are not always effective, unfavourable teacher-student ratios and the need for basic teaching materials. In this sense, O Coileain notes that his part of the field is in the first instance almost peripheral to most "Celtic Studies" and suffers from a disjunction between the (excellent) scholarship produced about modern Irish and the realities of teaching it as a subject.

Ann Dooley's essay begins the section on "prospect." Her paper, "A view from North America: obstacles and opportunities for Celtic Studies," relates the development and energy of the Celtic Studies Programme at St. Michael's College, University of Toronto, Canada. She notes that the cultural and geographical circumstances of being, in some sense, beyond the edges of the Celtic world have given the programme status as more than a university department: it is a vigrous part of a larger community. The faculty of the programme engage in outreach and community programmes; access to the programme's audio-visual library is provided for local traditional musicians; language courses are not merely about acquiring proficiency but about opportunities for acquiring an empowering voice. The list goes on. That said, Dooley's own wish list for the discipline includes a desire that critical approaches to Celtic Studies be expanded, such that studies of early and modern Irish literature (in this instance) engage in a similar kind of disciplinary outreach: encounters with the uncomfortable elements in the tradition are necessary if practitioners are "to explore issues of power and hegemony in our own cultural constructs of ourselves." This is necessary, she argues, in order for the poets of the future to have the chance of re-inventing traditions and voices.

John Koch's "Some thoughts on ethnic identity, cultural pluralism and the future of Celtic Studies" considers several topics: the living languages, the term "Celtic," historical and comparative linguistic method, Welsh scholarship and the cynfeirdd, diachronic vs synchronic approaches, the burden of proof, and finally multiculturalism and nihilism. In all these questions, Koch looks forward to a future wherein identities will not be deconstructed into rejection, but one wherein the field and matter of Celtic Studies can take their places in "an emerging international spirit of mutual respect and sympathy."

The final paper, Ruairi O hUiginn's "Future directions for the study of Irish" picks up where Sean O Coileain's left off: O hUiginn considers dimensions of scholarship on Irish literature and culture and traces some of the shifts in emphasis the field has seen over the last sixty years. Literary studies are now more prominent than philological ones, with many more areas explored; texts are being read in historical contexts as well as "purely" literary ones; contemporary languages are as interesting as old ones; all literature is benefitting from modern critical approaches; scholars from different disciplines have become interested in Irish works, and bring with them new insights, methodologies and understandings. Yet he would add that philology should not therefore become marginalized: the new approaches rely--whether consciously or not--on good editions and translations of texts. This implies that some standards editions may have to be undertaken again, in light of more recent scholarship, but this is surely no bad thing. O hUiginn concludes: "The field of study we have inherited is rich and varied. It has been well tended and cultivated by our predecessors. It behoves us to develop it further and to pass it on in better condition to the scholars of the future." The six essays included in these proceedings testify to the energy and vision at home in the field of Celtic Studies. At the same time, they also stand as a record of the state of the discipline, its interaction with new ideas, and its accomplishment of old desires. The structure once unquestioningly provided to the discipline by philological study is valued in both retrospect and prospect; the extent to which philology has been opened up to other approaches is also clear in both sections. In this regard, the appendix of sectional paper titles indicates the extent to which the philological "core" of the discipline is not inhibiting to modern questions and theories. In other words, unlike many fields in the humanities, Celtic Studies does not see the need to jettison "good" work for the sake of the "new."

Indeed, one argument made in different ways throughout the essays is that Celtic Studies needs to centre from the periphery (to borrow an idea from a Classics congress held some years ago). As Ann Dooley puts it, theoretical revolutions of the last twenty-five years "have left our discipline untouched. How compelling is our need as Celticists to heed these developments that have brought such a heady and, at times, subversive brew to the table of the humanities?" She suggest a possible answer: "we may not feel we need new theoretical approaches, but surely they would be all the more interesting for knowing us." That is, Celtic Studies, Celtic texts, Celtic materials of all kinds can challenge even the theorized structures now centering other disciplines (like that of Medieval Studies, for instance). At the same time, several of the essays pose caveats: Sean O Coileain takes issue with the construction of ancient and Medieval Celtic culture as either nativist or European, because such a construction can marginalize modern Celtic material for being not Celtic enough. Furthermore, both John T. Koch and Ruairi O hUiginn are reluctant to embrace the "era of intense scepticism" that on the one hand may either ground or follow from critical theory, or on the other result from a backlash against early twentieth century romanticism. These papers argue, therefore, that there is a retrospect and a prospect not only to the discipline of Celtic Studies, but also to the engagement with that discipline.