Beth Whalley (King's College London)
Fellow in Research Area 2: "Travelling Matters"
July – December 2020
Waterways and Their Temporalities: Literature, Culture, Practice
Beth Whalley’s project at EXC 2020 is dedicated to the medieval and modern cultures of inland and littoral waterways: wetlands, coasts, canals, rivers and estuaries. Whilst numerous scholars have taken account of oceanic travel, fewer have turned their focus inward. And yet the complex and agential waterways of the everyday are well worthy of our attention for the ways in which they shape individual, local and national identity; create connections with the wider world; and bring diverse objects, texts, ideas and communities into unexpected contact with one another.
Taking waterways as both subject and methodology, Beth Whalley’s research navigates spatio-temporal interactions across a range of medieval and modern sources and practices, including Old English elegies, heroic poems and riddles, Latin hagiography, manuscript illustrations, English-language contemporary poetry, public installations, murals and festivals. At the heart of this work is the idea that literary and literal immersion in water could become a radical means of re-making the field of early English studies, by allowing collaboration, public engagement, interdisciplinarity and creative-critical research to be taken seriously. What the project shares with RA 2 “Travelling Matters” is a conviction that literary texts are in constant motion; when they come into contact with other arts and creative practices across time, they materially transform the world around them and are transformed in return, creating new communities in the process.
Beth Whalley works at the intersection of early English studies, political ecology and creative-critical practice. Her PhD, which was awarded in 2020, was funded by the King’s College London Professor Sir Richard Trainor Scholarship and the Canal & River Trust. She is currently working with the University of Bristol and the Historic Towns Trust on the knowledge exchange project ‘Making Bristol Medieval’, which aims to inspire curiosity about the city of Bristol’s earlier histories. Current and forthcoming publications include chapters in Of Mud and Flame: The Penda’s Fen Sourcebook (Strange Attractor, 2019) and St-Peter-on-the-Wall: History, Archaeology, Landscape, Heritage (2021), and an article on the early English saint Pega in Yearbook of English Studies (2022).