In my recent journal article ‘Collaboratory, Coronavirus and the Colonial Countryside‘, in volume 2 of the Offa’s Dyke Journal, I explored the activities of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory and the adaption of events in response to the COVID-19 lockdown. In addition, I raised two specific phenomena which emerged in 2020 connecting the linear earthworks of the Welsh Marches to current events. First, I argued that in the context of the aftermath of the 2020 BLM protests, the relationship between the Anglo-Welsh borderlands’ linear earthworks and early medieval colonialism needed to be considered in debates regarding the decolonisation of the British countryside. By this I mean that Britain’s early historic colonialisms require attention alongside the landscapes, buildings, monuments and material cultures of more recent centuries.
Today, in my talk to the Shropshire Archaeological and Historical Society called ‘The Offa’s Dyke Lockdown’, I explored further dimensions of these issues, focusing on Offa’s Dyke’s colonial digital legacy in 2020 and early 2021. I discussed a host of claims that the monument should be closed against the English, against the Welsh, and should be patrolled, rebuilt and refortified. I balanced this by pointing out that heritage, leisure and tourism discussions of the monument match these conversations in frequency and outweigh them in terms of views, likes and shares.
I looked at Twitter posts over the last month and saw a range of uses of Offa’s Dyke to refer to the modern border and jibes on unrelated matters.
Some sports and independence comments are quite positive and upbeat, and others reflective.
Others wish to criticise the Welsh and Welsh Labour in particular, whereas others attempt to parody anti-immigration narratives.
Some specifically evoke the lockdown situation and the different rules and regulations either side of the Anglo-Welsh border by utilising Offa’s Dyke.
When Offa’s Dyke is deployed as a shorthand for the modern border, discussions of lockdown regulations and access to vaccines feature, but so do broader uses relating to sporting fixtures and other iterations of Welshness and Englishness, particularly in relation to the Welsh independence movement. Still, there remains an undercurrent of xenophobic and ethno-nationalistic uses of Offa’s Dyke utilised and directed in both directions. Hence, Offa’s Dyke has long been prone to being ‘weaponised’ to attack both English and Welsh people, and ahistorical concepts of both English and Welsh identity and nationhood, but this took on a new intensity in response to the perceived injustices and disparities in lockdown regulations and enforcements either side of the modern Anglo-Welsh borderline.
In contrast, rarely is the history of Offa’s Dyke alluded to in any direct regard. An exceptional instance is this member of the public who seems to have deployed Offa’s Dyke to discuss the time-depth of Welshness in relation to Stonehenge, calling out the casual anachronism of calling Stonehenge ‘Welsh’.
I concluded by arguing that the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory is an important initiative to raise engagement and awareness of the Offa’s Dyke and related monuments by ensuring we have responsible and clear academic information about the archaeology and history of the monument to counter fringe and extremist narratives. While far from being the solution, at least there is now a dedicated social media accounts, a website, a range of talks and events, plus a diamond open-access journal dedicated to providing information about the monument and its landscape context, and comparative perspectives on frontiers and borderlands past and present.
You can view the entire talk HERE.
Hence, in parallel with this talk, I’m pleased and pronounce to ‘launch’ volume 3 of the Offa’s Dyke Journal by sharing the draft front-cover. Articles will be published throughout 2021 and subsequently print copies available for purchase from Archaeopress.