New Approaches to Social History. Myth, Memory, and Place: Monmouth and Bath 1750-1900

This paper examines the rich possibilities for social history opened up by the cultural turn. Focusing on the interplay of myth, memory, and place, it begins with the Kymin, a hillside site outside the Welsh border town of Monmouth. In about 1800 this site was carefully remodelled to invest it with a series of meanings—urban/rural, enlightened/romantic, Welsh/English/British—through which those who visited it were able to explore and express their ambivalent identities. The eighteenth-century spa of Bath was also "symbolic territory", and in one of its iconic structures, the Circus, myth, memory, and place combined to allow the elite to examine similar issues of identity to those at the Kymin. Central to the mythical element in both sites was the notion of the hero. It was an idea that was to resurface on a grand scale in late Victorian and Edwardian Bath, as the city's historic fabric was reconfigured as a "mausoleum" to Britain's Georgian imperial heroes. The paper concludes by arguing that the identities examined in the paper were closely tied to ones of social class, and that the way forward for social history is a fusion of the cultural and the structural that emphasizes the interaction between the two.