Marshall Scholar visit to Wales

Marshall Scholar visit to Wales

24 April 2013

On Sunday 7 April 2013, Marshall Scholars travelled to Wales for a three-day immersive study of Welsh history, politics, economics, and culture. They enjoyed the privilege of hearing the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, speak about the formation of Welsh identity; he discussed the etymological tensions between the English word “Welsh,” the Germanic root of which connotes “foreigner,” and the Welsh word “Cymry,” which indicates “people from a common land,” as well as the important roles that rugby and the Welsh language play in Welsh self-identification today.

Heads of International Relations, Intergovernmental Relations, and Constitutional Affairs briefed Scholars on the contentious history of Welsh governance from the 1536 Act of Union annexing Wales to England to the 1998 and 2006 Government of Wales Acts granting power back to Wales; they spoke about the logistics and future challenges of Welsh devolution and the inter-governmental relations between Wales and the United Kingdom. Economic Advisor Thomas Nicholls explained the work of the Silk Commission in reviewing the devolution of fiscal powers. Such considerations strengthened Scholars’ understanding of the web of relations within the UK and of the stakes involved in Scotland’s upcoming referendum year. “Hearing from the Welsh government on the role of devolution in their country, how they view their relationships with Scotland and Northern Ireland, and what Scottish secession would look like for them was incredibly interesting and will definitely be informing my time at the University of Edinburgh,” says Scholar Becca Farnum.

The trip exposed Scholars to national efforts both to bolster respect for Welsh heritage, particularly the Welsh language, and to embark on novel cultural and scientific projects for the future. At Cardiff University, Scholars received a lesson in Welsh and endeavored to pronounce “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch” (St Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel Near To the Rapid Whirlpool of Llantysilio of the Red Cave). Professor Sioned Davies drew Scholars’ attention to linguistic controversies, such as the spatial hierarchies of English and Welsh on street signs, and explained her project to create an app that would render medieval manuscripts more accessible to readers. Professor Roger A. Falconer presented his cutting-edge work on the hydro-environmental impact of a barrage across the Severn estuary.

Other highlights of the trip included a tour of Caerphilly Castle, whose concentric walls-within-walls design presented an imposing stronghold for Baron Gilbert de Clare against Welsh leader Llywelyn the Last in the thirteenth century, and the Wales Millennium Stadium, whose retractable roof and pigeon-spooking Peregrine falcon present an imposing venue to anyone confronting the Wales national rugby union team today. Scholars explored the beautiful Wales Millennium Centre and the National Museum of Wales, where they discussed the successes and challenges of sustainable development and environmental governance, as well as the Welsh Language Commissioner’s work to protect and promote the use of the Welsh language. Of particular interest was the Scholars’ visit to the Big Pit: National Coal Museum and their descent three hundred feet underground to explore the difficult history, mechanics, and working conditions of the pit.

In the evenings, Scholars enjoyed exploring the ins and outs of contemporary Cardiff and reconnecting with each other to swap tales of adventure across the UK. “It was wonderful to be reunited as a class and to spend time with the class of 2011,” says 2012 Scholar Leah Rand. “It was a reunion of people both near and far.” The trip afforded Scholars the opportunity to share and discuss their experiences in the United Kingdom, as well as to hatch plans for future collaborative projects.

“This year’s trip to Wales gave us the unique opportunity not only to gain an appreciation of the rich cultural, historical, economic, and political fabric of the country,” says Scholar Allie Speidel, “but also to explore the more subtle and intimate aspects of what it means to be Welsh. It was inspiring to see the efforts of a country facing a complicated future with such openness to change while still remaining faithful to preserving its roots.” Scholars so greatly appreciate the hospitality of the Welsh Government in offering this opportunity to gain new insight into the history and contemporary issues of Wales and the great diversity of the United Kingdom. They very much hope to return soon.