A Folk Revival – the conscious performance of folksongs, music, customs and dances – is the product of a cultural transfer. It arises when a new and aware body of enthusiasts decide to reproduce expressive culture associated with ‘The Folk’’, defined as a failing and marginalised group. The motive for this reallocation is usually a last-minute attempt to save a threatened and irreplaceable embodiment of national identity and restore it to its rightful place at the forefront of culture.
Coming into being at the start of the twentieth century, the English Folk Revival was even more than usually shaped by nationalism and the competing political ideologies current in England before and during the Great War. For all its contrived rusticity, the Revival’s existence as the expression of the perceived culture and social cohesiveness of the pre-industrial village had a power beyond the fashionable and quaint. What was at stake was actualising Englishness - a battle to restore “the true soul of the nation”.
The Great War brought about decisive changes in the Revival’s development. Despite the emergence of possibilities for innovation during the War, within the Revival movement peace confirmed the supremacy of a deeply conservative approach to cultural traditions. The role of women as participants in the Revival was increasingly limited, whilst male dancers were reconfigured as a “peculiarly fitted and trained elite”. Externally, meanwhile, general attitudes began a change –
These old songs and dances have a certain antiquarian interest,... But when we get a ‘revival’ of them, when we have pale-faced intellectuals warbling and capering under the delusion that they are restoring the simple gaieties of Old England, the thing becomes ludicrous…. Morris dancing had undoubtedly its value as a healthy recreation for school children. But it would be much better left to children.
Anon., “Current Topics: Morris Dancing,” Sheffield Telegraph, 28 Sept 1926, p. 6.
This paper examines the ways in which the Great War and its consequences were dynamics in these changes and how they continue to influence culture today.
Georgina Boyes, Independent Researcher
Venue: Eliot Lecture Theatre 2, Eliot College, University of Kent, Canterbury CT2 7NS
This event is part of the First World War Seminar Series organised by In Flanders Fields Museum and Gateways to the First World War. All seminars are free and open to all. The full seminar programme is published here.
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