by Leah Jones, Features Editor
PowerPoints, Prezis, pointers and papers. Whether students enjoy them or not, presentations are a part of many classes at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. However, some students take their presentations to the next level, such as UMSL alumni, Laura Hasting and Cora Bartholomew. Hastings and Bartholomew, who graduated with their MA degrees in English, presented papers at the Midwest American Conference for Irish Studies held in Lawrence Kansas from September 22-24.
Hastings’ paper, entitled “Magical Realism in Irish Film: Selkie Folklore in ‘The Secret of Roan Inish’ and ‘Ondine’,” analyzed the representations of Selkies in two Irish films. “Selkies are seal-people…They are seals when they are in the water but they have the ability to shed their seal skin and be a person,” Hastings said. According to the legend, Selkies can bury their seal-skin and remain on land for seven years. Selkies often do this when they fall in love with a landsman. However, this caveat backfires when fishermen steal the Selkie’s skin and hide it, trapping the Selkie on land until they find their skin.
Hastings focused her analysis on “The Secret of Roan Inish”(1994) directed by John Sayles and “Ondine”(2009) directed by Neil Jordan. “I talk about how some people complain about romantic representations of Ireland in movies….And there is certain truths to that…But I also argue that the way the legend functions in the movie is [that] it draws attention to [and] highlights cultural concerns,” she said. Hastings argues that “Ondine,” highlights alcoholism in modern Ireland with its portrayal of several characters with drinking problems. “The Secret of Roan Inish,” features a family who is evicted from their island home on which they have lived for generations. “So it’s…this idea of home, and being taken away from your home and then what that means for your culture and your history,” Hastings explained.
Bartholomew’s paper, entitled “Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ and the Universal Language of Waiting,” focused on different representations of “Waiting for Godot.” Beckett wrote in French and his writing was then translated into English, but he was an Irish writer. Bartholomew said, “I highlighted several productions in my presentation, but it focused heavily on two productions that took place in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I used the play and the productions as a way to examine the universal language of waiting.”
Both students wrote early drafts of their paper in Dr. Eamonn Wall’s course “Contemporary Irish Drama and Film” in the Fall 2015 semester. Wall, who is a Smurfit-Stone Corporation Professor of Irish Studies at UMSL, said that since the course is the often the first and only course on Irish drama for UMSL students, he chooses to teach both the “plastics,” such as Y.B. Yeats, and “contemporary and cutting-edge drama.”
Though Wall is a professor of English, he said that film and literature have some similarities. “Film is more of a visual media and literature is a print media,” he said. “There are different rules in both [but] I’m interested in how they come together. Literature is narrative driven and a lot of Irish movies are narrative driven… Characterization is important in literature and film. Dialogue is important in literature and film. Setting is important in literature and film.” He added that many Irish film directors, such as Neil Jordan, were originally fiction writers.
Though the material in the course was specific to Irish drama, Hastings said that the students could choose their paper topics. She chose to write about the legend of the Selkies because it aligns with her primary research interest in folklore. “I’m just really fascinated with why people tell legends and what it says about that moment in history and the way legends develop as current events develop,” said Hastings, who has also studied the zombie legend.
Hastings also said that she watched “The Secret of Roan Inish” when she was young. “It was kind of cool re-watching it in a more analytical [and] critical way,” she said.
Bartholomew studied under Wall for three semesters. “My dad’s side of the family traces back to County Cork, Ireland, so I’ve always had a general interest,” Bartholomew explained. She chose “Waiting for Godot” as her paper topic because she saw a Broadway production of the play featuring Bill Irwin, Nathan Lane, and John Goodman, and she read the play several times throughout her academic career. When Wall learned of her interest in the play, he suggested that she read James Knowlson’s biography of Beckett, “Damned to Fame.” She continued to do research on the play and Beckett and eventually narrowed her topic down to a few different presentations of the play.
The conference took place over the course of two days at the Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence, Kansas and featured presenters from as far away as Texas A&M. Hastings, who has also presented twice at the Folklore Society Conference, said that she had about twenty minutes to read her paper to a group of about 12 other scholars.
“It was a very inspiring weekend,” Bartholomew said. “I felt so good about this first conference that I have decided to submit a paper proposal to the ACIS National conference, being held in Kansas City, Kansas in spring of 2017.” Other presenters either read papers or used PowerPoints to talk about a diverse set of Irish issues such as history, airlines in Ireland, poetry, and Irish comedians.
The range of topics discussed at the conference reflects the interdisciplinary nature of Irish studies. According to Wall, Irish Studies covers not just literature and film, but the history, music, and language of Ireland as well. As a literary scholar himself, Wall focuses on literature and said, “The idea is that Irish identity and literature is separate from British and American literature… Different things about the Irish experience are reflected in the literature.”
Wall stressed that he was proud of Hastings and Bartholemew for submitting their papers to the conference. “It’s very good for them professionally,” he said. “I feel that our students here at UMSL are as good as the students anywhere… They [Hastings and Bartholemew] did UMSL proud.”