Alex Salmond, setting out the Scottish Government’s programme at Holyrood earlier this month, poured scorn on Tories who had described plans to promote ‘Scottish Studies’ as ‘indoctrination’. “I cannot imagine any other nation,” he said, “where teaching your own history, arts and literature in an impartial way would be dismissed in such a negative fashion.”
Try south of the border, Alex. We’ve been arguing for decades that Wessex Studies needs to be offered as a university course and elements from it incorporated into day-to-day teaching in Wessex schools. Other regions are faring much better. Norwich has its Centre of East Anglian Studies. Newcastle has its Centre for Northern Studies. Leeds Metropolitan University also has its Institute of Northern Studies and offers a Master of Arts course in the subject. Even little Cornwall has its Institute of Cornish Studies at Penryn.
It’s nothing to do with lack of material. Wessex isn’t just Alfred the Great. It isn’t just Thomas Hardy. It’s Stonehenge and Avebury, ancient chalk figures, Roman baths and villas, Arthurian legend, abbots, barons and wool merchants, Queen Elizabeth’s sea dogs, Monmouth’s Rebellion, Swing rioters, Tolpuddle Martyrs, I.K. Brunel and Westland. It’s our dialect and our writers, from William Barnes to Pam Ayres. Our artists, from Stanley Spencer to Beryl Cook and David Inshaw. Our music, from the Wurzels to the Bristol Sound. Actresses like Liz Hurley, Kate Winslet and Emma Watson. Our cheese and cider, real ale, and good old recipes. And the land itself, its forests, moors, heaths and downs, its richness of wildlife and heritage. THIS is what our tourism and marketing folk should be selling, not some dead-end ‘South West’ that turns its back on anything and everything that’s not superficial and ephemeral. And if they need expert help, our universities should provide it. Let them prove they’re part of Wessex life and not simply living off Wessex.