Accepted Papers:

The view from the beach: awakening Hiraeth and weaving imaginaries on the Gower in Wales  


Kaori O'Connor (University College, London)

Paper Short Abstract:

This coast-focussed approach developed in Hawaii uses archaeology, anthropology and local knowledge to re-weave lost imaginaries and re-inscribe the landscape of the Gower Peninsula in Wales with shared meanings supportive of public engagement with heritage conservation and resource management.

Paper long abstract:

Long overshadowed by land and maritime studies, coasts have emerged as a scholarly field in their own right, negating the old polarized imaginaries of land/sea, rural/urban. Coasts are also now recognized as important sources of diversity for social-ecological resilience. This study focuses on Wales, which has some 750 miles of coastline and where 60% of the population lives in the coastal zone, mainly in South Wales. The principal fieldwork site is the Gower Peninsula, a haven for rare flora and wildlife, with a rich historic landscape that includes remains from the Mesolithic period onwards. The Gower is also a microcosm of contending interests and imaginaries, including differing visions of 'Welsh-ness' and the Welsh past, regional and language rivalries, and the competing agendas of developers and conservationists, producers and consumers, tourists and residents. The industrialisation of South Wales transformed the coast and largely obliterated coastal culture. Stretches of the shoreline have been regenerated, but much local knowledge of the past and of the Gower has been lost. The work presented here uses anthropological and archaeological findings and techniques in tandem with local knowledge to re-inscribe the environment with meanings, imaginaries and feelings (hiraeth) that are essential to engaging the public in costal heritage conservation and natural resource management. It uses an approach developed in Hawaii, where beach and coast have always been central. As well as the past, it focuses on the present and future, including the imaginaries of surfers, and on two coastal foods emblematic of Gower, cockles and seaweed.

panel P32
Imagining past and present landscapes