Last week saw the first meeting of the Stirling Scottish Studies Research Group – intended as a friendly space for people working on Scottish-related topics to share their research, ideas and questions. At each meeting, a Stirling researcher will give an informal talk on their recent work, followed by group discussion. We aim to become an interdisciplinary support network, where we can share skills and knowledge and keep up to date with each other’s work.
Our first speaker was my fellow first-year PhD candidate, Félix Flores Varona, whose work centres on the Cuban national hero, journalist, poet and political theorist José Martí, and his relationships with various Scottish writers. This research is part of a wider view of Martí’s relationship with the culture of the British Isles – Félix’s Masters thesis focused on Irish connections, and he will follow the Scottish research with a study of Martí’s English interests.
Though his name may be unfamiliar to Scottish literature researchers, Martí’s detailed writings detailing his visit to Abbotsford – as yet unpublished – have proved invaluable to scholars of Walter Scott. Martí was not the only cultural link between nineteenth-century Cuba and Scotland. As Félix explained, other Cuban writers had translated Scott and Stevenson, and worked Scottish historical legends into their writing – but Martí was particularly prolific in his journalism, translation and criticism of Scottish authors.
Among the many writers Martí discussed were Margaret Oliphant, Henry Drummond (local to Stirling), and Gorbals author Alan Pinkerton (born 1819.) Pinkerton’s authorship has been disputed – he was accused of using ghostwriters – and his role as the founder of spy agency the Pinkertons has overshadowed his literary reputation. Ironically, during the Cuban War of Independence, the United States government had Martí investigated – by the Pinkertons.
Martí is remembered as an all-round cultural figure: as well as his prolific journalism and political work, he is hailed as a key founder of modernism in Latin America. This range of roles and writing styles means that Félix is having to familiarise himself with a range of disciplines, shifting from literary criticism to theories of translation and histories of journalism. The necessity of cross-disciplinary research is familiar to most members of the research group, and the more experienced researchers were able to offer Félix guidance on how to go about this.
For our next meeting, which will take place on Monday 2 May, in Pathfoot A7 at 6pm, I will be talking about the early stages of my own research into popular poetry and song communities in nineteenth-century Dundee, work which has so far incorporated literary, historical and folklore methods. We invite all members of the Stirling research community with an interest in Scottish topics to attend, and we look forward to the future conversations this group may open up.