May has national holidays from VE Day (8th May) to the awareness movements for Mental Health, Dying Matters and Local History. What they all have in common is reflection: reflection on the things that shape our lives and the lessons that can be learnt. In this blog, we’re talking with Cornish writer and blogger – Elizabeth Dale – who runs the popular Cornish Bird blog to find out more about Cornwall’s history, while Storylines shares the importance of sharing stories of our past.
Looking into our community history can help to create stronger ties to place and people, learning everything that makes up our Cornish towns and villages, and the traditions we’ve inherited. Sharing in history provides us with a sense of roots, understanding through universal experiences and a therapeutic release to share, chipping away at our sense of loneliness by connecting with others in Cornwall.
In times of uncertainty, sometimes comfort can come from reminiscing in the past.
Image credit: Elizabeth Dale - Cornish Bird
What is the Cornish Bird and what can readers expect?
I started the blog more than five years ago now, partly as an outlet for myself as a writer and partly out of frustration at what I saw as the one-dimension representation of Cornwall in the mainstream media. Most travel guides and TV documentaries seemed to focus on the same few well-known tourist destinations and clichéd heritage sites. As someone born and bred in Cornwall I knew that the region had so much more to offer in terms of a wonderfully individual and strong cultural identity, a diverse and complicated history and of course lots of stunning untouched beauty. The Cornish Bird (https://cornishbirdblog.com/) aims to explore Cornwall’s hidden places and untold stories, to encourage the reader to discover more and look more closely at the area. With more than 270 articles on everything from poets to the prehistoric hopefully there is something for everyone, locals and visitors alike.
Why do you share stories about Cornwall’s history?
As someone who feels so deeply rooted to this beautiful region I have always been interested in it’s past, in the people that were here before me, in the fascinating relics that are seemingly everywhere in the Cornish landscape. And Cornwall’s history is so diverse! We have more prehistoric monuments per square mile here than anywhere else in the UK, add to that ancient kings and civil war battles as well as our fishing and mining industries that arguably helped to change the world, our unique culture and the strong folkloric traditions! The inspiration for stories is endless. I find that each place I write about has layer upon layer of past to explore; and each story, each layer, gives deeper insight and understanding of where we call home.
What are the universal themes and lessons?
I just love rediscovering the stories of ordinary lives in Cornwall, the regular, unremarkable people who were born, lived and died here. I read a lot of old newspapers and what often strikes me is how similar their problems were in the past to our own. The basic worries and stresses of daily life have been pretty much universal throughout history and there is something very comforting about that.
The saying goes that anyone who doesn’t learn from history is doomed to repeat it and while I agree I think that this is also missing the point somewhat. The past was not all doom and gloom – history can be wildly exciting and hilariously funny too, as well as giving us a guide on ‘what not to do’, it can also be a manual on how to get the most out of life!
How can history comfort us in difficult times?
If history has just one thing to teach us it is that life will always go on, we will always find a way to not only cope but move forward and thrive. Perhaps most importantly it reminds us that the finest achievements usually come when we work together as a community. Whether that is building a huge stone monument like Trethevy Quoit, digging a mine shaft, surviving war or finding a way support each other after the recent troubling times, we are better together. The people of Cornwall, born or adopted, have always and will always have each other’s back. In these modern, hurried times it is easy to feel adrift, disconnected from the people and places around you, history grounds us all and draws us together in a shared narrative, a shared ancestry.
Kernow bys vyken!
Storylines is a Community Interest Company who utilise story to bring people together to share and connect, helping to tackle loneliness. They work alongside organisations, communities and individuals to unearth and share their stories through projects in various formats.
Sarah Trevillion from Storylines shares with us her thoughts on the role of history in our lives.
Why is history important?
There is so much to be gained through learning about our history. How do we know where we are going if we don’t know where we came from? At Storylines (www.storylines.org.uk) we are particularly interested in oral history, and enjoy nothing more than spending hours listening to people’s life stories. Very often we transform the oral histories we gather into digital stories, which are wonderful tools for teaching people of all ages and inspiring others. These personal accounts of history provide fascinating snapshots into all aspects of life. From shellfishing to tattoos, farming to dialects, there is value in recording memories on all themes and we are firm believers that everyone has stories. It’s staggering how much life has changed within living memory and it’s a true privilege to be able to capture and share this.
How can history comfort us during difficult times?
One thing that often strikes us when listening to people’s oral histories is both how resilient people can be and also how communities can pull together in the face of adversity. Accompanying the enrichment we feel from hearing peoples’ stories is often a sense of loss at the collapse of once functioning, resourceful and supportive communities. Listening to elders in communities around the South West, we are fully aware of how much has been lost in terms of community involvement and support networks due to the advent of cars, the TV and internet, changing family structures and the shift from local to global. People had more time to listen and listening to and sharing stories is key to building strong, resilient communities.
In the past few weeks our communities have had to find new ways of pulling together and connecting, which is hugely heart-warming to witness. In response to Covid-19 we have embarked on a new project entitled Kemeneth, Cornish for community, to share positive personal stories of people and communities pulling together. Now, more than ever, we need to celebrate and remember the positive ways that communities pull together, the resourcefulness that helps us find new ways and the acts of kindness that can transform our days. We hope that this platform will act as a counterbalance for the many worrying and upsetting stories that surround us during this pandemic, by sharing comforting and uplifting stories. Although this is a challenging time, it is also an opportunity to reflect and reimagine how we engage with each other and the world.