“Landscapes of Hope”

Recently I have uploaded podcasts from the “Landscape of Hope” symposium held by the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities

Experts in fields ranging from History of Art and English Literature through to Linguistics, Anthropology, Human Geography and other subjects discuss the issues around the broad topics of “hope”, “landscape” and “identity” in the context of deciding what the future may bring for Scotland. They don’t make any explicit political statements but rather draw on their own expertise to see if any relevant parallels can be made.

Detail from 'Vignettes of Cairnsbruck' by Sam Caldwell

Detail from ‘Vignettes of Cairnsbruck’ by Sam Caldwell

The opening address by Doctor Maxim Shadurski begins with an assumption that we all know how hope can change our individual lives, and how hope guides and informs aspirations for our societies.

He also reminds us though that hope can be made of “explosive stuff”, giving the example of recent troubles in the Ukraine. He then goes on to say that the Soviet Union was a failed utopia.

Professor of Ethics Michael Northcott talks about appropriating wasteland, about land reform in Scotland and raises the question – is there anything that the devolved Parliament in Scotland cannot do?

Doctor Magnus Course finds a connection between the landscape of the Mapuche (a group of indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile and south-western Argentina) and that of Scotland and other lands.

Simon Grimble describes utopian landscapes seen through the eyes of John Ruskin, and landscapes of hope in the writings of Charles Dickens, the works of William Morris and other creative figures of the Victorian era. He discusses how these relate to contemporary visions of England and Scotland.

Doctor Franklin Ginn tells the story of John Deans, who emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand, where he founded Riccarton Bush national park. In this context he discusses the issues around sustaining of the indigenous people, animals and plants. The threat of extinction is juxtaposed with the hope of sustainability.

Doctor Fraser MacDonald starts by saying how objects and landscapes of hope can become objects and landscapes of disappointment. He also tells a story, this time of the Beveridge family, for whom “the place and property mattered”, and their big house on the tidal island of Vallay, North Uist, which eventually became a ruin.

Doctor Alex Thomson introduces the works of the Scottish modernist poet Hugh MacDiarmid in the context of literature and place, specifically his writing in the 1930s in Shetland and the “crisis thinking” of the time.

No doubt as the referendum approaches the debate will become more heated.

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