Where Did It Occur? Not Just Who or Why; Today We Kick off the Third of Our Welsh History Months in the Western Mail with a Series of Essays from the Leading Historians of Wales Debating What Is the Most Important Place in Welsh History Here, Professor Huw Bowen Sets the Scene by Investigating the Notion of 'Place' in Wales

Article excerpt

History is about people. It is about what they did, why they did it, and what the consequences were. As historians we try to make sense of it all by recovering, analysing, and explaining what people in the past have left behind.

It was primarily people who animated and shaped the world around them, and individually and collectively their actions are what makes the past so interesting and of great importance to us all.

Not surprisingly, historical biographies are piled high in book shops. And, as was revealed by the response to our last series on heroes and villains in Welsh history in the Western Mail, it seems that we all like assessing the strengths and weaknesses of those who lived in the past.

But history is also all about place. This is because places provide the context for all human actions, and like our ancestors we are all shaped by our environment: where we live, work, and visit. Some places are formed by the natural environment, and others are created by us for specific reasons. As a result, places can be beautiful and enjoyable, functional and mundane, challenging and dangerous, safe and secure, interesting and thought-provoking.

Some places change rapidly; others seem barely to alter at all over the centuries; and yet others again disappear completely from view.

Places that were once important lose their significance, while other places rise briefly to prominence because of a particular event or episode.

We might visit these places every day; we might only ever see them once in our lives.

Some places are instantly forgettable; others leave a deep and vivid impression upon our consciousness.

Places can give us a sense of rootedness, identity, and civic pride, but they can also be the cause of misery, despair and humiliation.

In short, place matters in history, and for each and every one of us different places have made us all what we are as individuals, communities, and a nation.

It is for these reasons that buildings and places in Welsh history will be discussed in the third series of essays to be published by the Western Mail in association with History Research Wales.

This is a unique partnership. Nowhere else in the world does a national newspaper give over space to a group of academics so that they can write 2,500 words a day for a month on whatever subject they want, without any editorial interference whatsoever.

Why do the academics do it? We write these essays because it is vital that those in our universities communicate their thoughts, insights, and very latest research findings to public audiences.

This is a process of engagement that contributes to the making of a vibrant, confident and intelligent nation that is secure in its knowledge of where it has come from and where it might be going.

We also do it because there is evidently a great thirst for new knowledge and understanding among the readers of the Western Mail.

This has become abundantly clear in the responses to our first two series of essays. The first series on myths and realities in Welsh history has become a best-selling and award-winning book, published by Gomer press in May 2011.

And the debates we had about that book at last year's literature festival in Hay took place with large and appreciative audiences.

This year we will be repeating this winning formula.

The second series on heroes and villains will again be published by Gomer, and we will be discussing the book at Hay in June.

Come and join us! As in the previous two series of essays, we want to encourage readers to think critically about Welsh history.

We don't wish to provoke controversy for controversy's sake but we do want to challenge myths and misconceptions about the significance of selected places and buildings.

And in bringing our latest research findings to readers we want to take them to the cutting-edge of current debate. …