Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Detained by US Immigration . . . . . .

Well, I'm just back from a week in the United States - Washington to be precise - attending a conference and doing a bit of sight-seeing on the side as well! The conference was the bi-annual North American Association for the Study of Welsh Culture and History, and was held this time at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, just a couple of miles outside of DC itself.

It didn't start off on the best footing to be honest - after an inordinately long flight - or so it seemed - I was detained for three hours by US Immigration! Held in a room with others, all Black or Arab it has to be said, watched by fully tooled-up immigration officials who were deciding whether or not to admit my fellow detainees into America. Anyway it was just a mix-up with my fingerprints not matching the ones they had on record from my previous visits, so it only took a couple of minutes to sort out once I was actually seen!

The conference itself was a little mixed, I guess. I had orgainsed a panel of three papers with two friends from Bangor, Prof. Densil Morgan and Dr Robert Pope, on Trans-Atlantic Currents in Welsh Non-conformity. I spoke on Jonathan Edwards' influence in Wales, especially on the parallels between him and William Williams, Pantycelyn. Densil spoke on Henry Rees' trip to the US in the late 1830s in order to establish Calvinistic Methodism there, while Robert spoke on evangelicals and the social gospel in the US and Wales - a comparative paper that majored on J. Gresham Machen's visits to R. B. Jones' Porth Bible College in the 1920s and 1930s. The panel worked really well, I think. We had a good audience, and the whole panel showed clearly some of the trans-Atlantic currents across the three centuries we covered. Some scope for further investigation of that theme in future - possibly.

The other panel that impressed me consisted of three papers on different Welsh-American settlers, who achieved fame/notoriety to some degree or other. Wyn James from Cardiff spoke on Evan Rowland Jones, a Welshman who had a distinguished career in the Northern Yankee army during the Civil War, reaching the rank of Major, before returning home and representing Carmarthen Boroughs for the Liberal Party in the 1890s. Bill Jones, again of Cardiff, spoke on John Griffith, 'Gohebydd', a journalist for Baner ac Amserau Cymru whose letters from post-Civil war America were influential in Wales, particularly in the run-up to the 1868 Reform Act. But the most interesting of all was John Ellis' paper on Owen Rhoscomyl, a remarkable figure who spent much of the 1880s on the America Frontier living the life of a outlaw, before returning to Wales, serving in the Boer War, and being behind much of the faux pagentry at the enthronment of George, son of Edward VII, as Prince of Wales in 1906, and the National Pageant of Wales, a cheesy re-enactment of some of the more glorious moments in early Welsh history, held in Cardiff in 1909.

So a mixed conference, but a few real highlights!

We had a couple of days for sight-seeing then. Got pretty close to the White House, did the National Mall and its various monuments, and went in a couple of the big national museums, the one dedicated to Native Americans, which I thought a bit of a disapointment - didnt really give much history, for obvious reasons I guess, and the National Museum of American History, which was better - had the actual Star Spangled Banner and a really interesting section on Abraham Lincoln.

As for reading while away, I got through a couple of books. Amanda Petrusich's, It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways and the Search for the Next American Music (2008), is a sort of travelogue in which the author visits many of the places associated with American country, folk and blues music - what these days is known as Americana. I really enjoyed it, had some excellent material on the Carter Family and Woody Guthrie in particular, and was wonderfully evocotive of many of those places which figured so heavily in American music, Memphis, Nashville, Appalacia, Greenwich Village. Then I've been reading Joe Bageant, Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War (2007). Its a really irreverent and downright profane look at the white redneck underclass in America, 'the great beery, NASCAR-loving, church-going, gun-owning America that has never set foot in Starbucks'! Sure his case is overstated, but he does has some very powerful things to say about a certain slice of contemporary America, and makes some pertient comments on the often negative effect of American Fundamentalist Christianity.

I've another trip to the States pencilled in for January 2011 - this time its the American Society for Church History conference at Boston. I'm part of a panel to showcase a new publication, the Oxford History of the British Sermon, to which I'm contributing. I think I've said I'll give a paper on George Whitefield and his role in forming modern evangelical preaching.

Here's hoping I won't get detained by US Immigration for three hours again . . . . .

No comments: