August 22, 2013, by Lucy

‘Talking Weather’

“If a census were taken of common topics of conversation amongst British people, it is very probable that the weather would take first place”

(Manley, G.V (1952) Climate and the British Scene, Collins: 13)

This week Georgina and I have been making final preparations for a workshop on ‘Talking Weather’. The event will be held next Tuesday at the Royal Geographical Society in London, and is the final event of  ‘Weather Walks, Weather Talks’. The purpose of ‘Talking Weather’ is to bring together individuals with an interest in weather study and cultural histories of the weather, to explore the ways in which people engage with and ascribe meanings to the weather and make sense of it. Specifically the event will provide a forum to discuss different methodologies and approaches that can be used to investigate and capture popular understanding of weather, weather memories and experiences.

The weather is and has been woven into our experiences of modern life in many ways. Particular social norms and cultural contexts, however, shape the way in which weather is conceptualised and experienced, which in turn, together with the knowledge of events in the recallable past, determines whether and how weather becomes inscribed into the social memory and cultural fabric of communities. Our speakers will cover material on ‘talking weather’ in print, online, in blogs, on television, in a performance, and in text through the medium of an audio walk. These different modes of talking also of course speak to different audiences and publics.

We are really pleased to have a great range of speakers lined up to entertain us:

  • Stephen Burt (Climatological Observers Link): Since records began …”: the development of our institutional weather memory
  • Trevor Harley (University of Dundee): Frost, Snow, Thunder, and Sun: Why are People Interested in the Weather?
  • John Kettley (ex BBC Weatherman)  Weather and the Media
  • Cerys Jones and Mike Pearson (Aberystwyth University and University of Wales): Voices from the Past: Reconstructing and Re-enacting the Snows of Yesteryear
  • John Adamson (CEH, Lancaster): Perceptions of Historic “Bad Winters” in the North Pennines
  • Georgina Endfield and Lucy Veale (University of Nottingham): Weather Walking: a ‘Discovering Britain’ Walk in the Footsteps of Gordon Manley
  • Frank Oldfield (University of Liverpool): Memories of Gordon Manley and fieldwork on Great Dun Fell

Cerys and Mike will be talking about ‘The Snows of Yesteryear’ performance which I’m really looking forward to finding out more about, and a number of the talks (including our own) will feature Gordon Manley, someone who is famous for talking weather. Manley sought to encourage consideration of climate as an expression of the “integrated experiences” of weather in Britain in the mid-twentieth century. His perspectives as well as his work thus have currency today, at a time when the relational context of climate has been identified as critical for understanding how different groups of people in different places comprehend climate change. His popular book Climate and the British Scene explored the role of climate in shaping the British landscape and its people, and is still viewed as an important contribution to British climatology. However his greatest achievement was the successful synthesis of a vast number of temperature records into a single series of monthly averages for various sites in central England. This year marks sixty years since Manley first published his ‘Central England Temperature’ series in 1953 (covering the period 1698 to 1952) so we are very pleased to have a number of talks which will feature Manley.

The workshop is followed by the RGS-IBG Annual Conference at which we will be presenting two papers relating to our ‘Weather Walk, Weather Talks’ project; one looking at the Helm Wind of Crossfell and another on the Discovering Britain walk. We’ll report back after the event when we also hope to be able to welcome a new member to the Snow Scenes team!


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