Traditional Drama Forum - No.15 ISSN 1743-3789 October 2010


Compiled by Eddie Cass

Conference Report

"Taking Shetland out of the Box : Island Cultures and Shetland Identity", Lerwick, 7-10 May 2009

"Taking Shetland out of the Box : Island Cultures and Shetland Identity" was an international conference held at the Shetland Museum in Lerwick in May 2009. The first in a planned series of conferences on the theme of Island Dynamics, it brought together academics working in a diverse range of fields, from folklore to economics, as well as representatives from politics, tourism and the arts. While many of the presentations were concerned specifically with Shetland, the conference was devoted to exploring the experiences and issues that link geographically and culturally insular communities worldwide. Its central theme was the role of islands as meeting-places for cultures and the influence of these meetings on local identity. The event was jointly organised by the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen; the Centre for Nordic Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands Millennium Institute; and the Shetland Museum and Archives.

Two of the sessions featured during the conference focused on aspects of traditional drama in the context of island cultures and identities.

The session on Guising Traditions opened with Linda Riddellís paper on the Shetland winter festival of Up-Helly-Aa, in which she discussed the various interpretations of the festivalís origins and significance that have been propounded in the many popular and scholarly accounts of this tradition. This was followed by Joy Fraserís analysis of the custom of Christmas mumming and its associations with violence in mid-nineteenth-century Conception Bay, Newfoundland, based on evidence from recently uncovered contemporary trial documents. Terry Gunnell concluded the session with an exploration of the nature and function of guising on the Shetland islands of Yell, Unst and Fetlar, which he contextualised within a wider international framework of Nordic mumming practices.

The conference also featured a session on the Papa Stour Sword Dance, which began with a paper by Paul Smith detailing the life of Dr James Scott of Melby and assessing his contribution to the early documentation of the Sword Dance tradition. Michael J. Preston then presented his analysis of the early textual history of the dance, in the form of a close comparison of Samuel Hibbertís published account from 1822 and the description given in James Scottís manuscript. This session was preceded by a performance of the dance organised by Mr George P.S. Peterson (see photograph). In his introductory remarks, Mr Peterson offered an overview of the history and format of the dance, as well as his personal memories of the tradition as it existed in Papa Stour in the mid-twentieth century. He also discussed the revival of the tradition in the 1960s, in which he played a key role. A partial video recording of the dance as performed at the conference can be viewed at

Papa Stour Sword Dance performed for conference delegates at the Shetland Museum, Lerwick.
Papa Stour Sword Dance performed for conference delegates at the Shetland Museum, Lerwick.

A version of Fraserís paper on Newfoundland mumming was subsequently published in Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures, and can be accessed online at Other conference events attended and enjoyed by the author included sessions focusing on storytelling and community, folk belief, and vernacular music. A copy of the full conference programme, and abstracts of the papers, can be found at The next conference in the Island Dynamics series, entitled "Taking Malta out of the Box : Island Cultures, Economies, and Identities", will be held in Valletta from the 11th to 15th May 2011. Further information and a call for papers can be found at

Thanks to Adam GrydehÝj for supplying information used in this report.

Joy Fraser

Website Updates


Roomer >>

The TDRG's newsletter, 1980-1991. Now online.

Colin Dick and Coventry Mummers

Colin Dick >>

Online exhibition of a volume in the Ron Shuttleworth Collection.

Ron Shuttleworth

Ron Shuttleworth >>

His two folk play booklets. Now online.

Guizer Press

Guizer Press >>

Their five folk play booklets. Now online.



Eddie Cass (2010) T. Fairman Ordish and the British Folk Play
Folklore, 2010, Vol.121, pp.1-11

E.C. Cawte (2009) The Calling-On Song in the North-West of England
Folk Music Journal, 2009, Vol.9, No.4, pp.525-580

Joy Fraser (2009) Mummers on Trial : Mumming, Violence and the Law in Conception Bay and St. John's, Newfoundland, 1831-1863
Shima: the international journal of research into island cultures, 2009, Vol.3, No.2, pp.70-88

Alan Gailey (2005) Chapbook Printings of Mummers' Plays in Ireland
Ulster Folklife, 2005, Vol.51, pp.34-53

Alan Gailey (2010) Irish Mummers' Play Texts: Their Content and Development - Part 1
Ulster Folklife, 2010, Vol.53, pp.1-56


Georges Arsenault (2009) Acadian Mi-CarÍme: Masks and Merrymaking
Charlottetown, The Acorn Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-894838-40-5, C$19.95

An important publication on the masking tradition of parts of eastern Canada.

Kelvin Jones (ed.) (2010) Cornish Mumming
West Rudham, Oakmagic Publications, 2010, ISBN 978-1940330-061, £4.95

Anton Kirchhofer & Jutta Schwarzkopf (eds.) (2009) The Workings of the Anglosphere : Contributions to the Study of British and US-American Cultures, presented to Richard Stinshoff
Trier, WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2009, ISBN 978-3-86821-132-0, Ä28.50

This book contains 'The James Madison Carpenter Collection: Reflections on its Past and on its Future' by Eddie Cass.

Richard Maylam, Mick Lynn & Geoff Doel (eds.) (2009) Percy Maylam's The Kent Hooden Horse
Stroud, The History Press, 2009, ISBN 9780752449975, £12.99

See review by E.C. Cawte elsewhere in this issue.

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© Copyright 2010, TDRG. Editor: Eddie Cass (, Last updated on 31/10/2010