Cornwall Council supports the Institute

About the Institute

The Institute of Cornish Studies was officially launched in 1971 as a unique collaborative venture between the then Cornwall County Council and the University of Exeter. At that time its Director, Charles Thomas, defined its field as ‘The study of all aspects of man and his handiwork in the regional setting (Cornwall and Scilly), past, present and future. The development of society, industry and the landscape in our fast changing world is as much of concern … as the history of those vast topics in the recent and remote past.’ This led to a series of projects covering such subjects as archaeology, botany, oral history and place names. Its leadership changed again in 1991 with Philip Payton, a political scientist and historian, developing an interdisciplinary New Cornish Studies. This included a specific focus on modern Cornwall since the eighteenth century and a consideration of topics like migration, tourism and ethnic identity. The subsequent involvement of new members of staff from 1997 onwards, notably Amy Hale, Garry Tregidga and Bernard Deacon, led to an emphasis on New Celtic Studies, oral history and quantitative research respectively.

The Institute’s work is disseminated through publications (notably the Cornish Studies series), the Cornish Story outreach programme, an annual conference and a related programme of lectures, seminars and workshops. For further details, including information on the Institute’s associate scheme, please email The Institute is currently developing a new research agenda for 2014-17 that will focus on three broad and related themes:

Political Behaviour and Traditions

How distinctive is Cornwall’s political culture? Researchers will focus on such themes as contemporary community governance, political traditions (including the impact of family, occupational and religious factors) and electoral comparisons between Cornwall and other regions of Britain and Europe. A Cornish Political Research Group was launched in March 2013 to stimulate research. Apart from promoting research through publications and a seminar series, the group will take the lead in creating a political resource including election leaflets, letters, photographs, film and oral history recordings. There will also be ongoing analysis of election statistics including the results of Cornwall Council, European and Westminster elections.  

Global Connections

What are Cornwall’s connections in a global context?  At one level there would be a focus on historical and contemporary connections with Celtic nations from Scotland to Brittany. This will include studies of the Celtic Revivalist movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But this strand will also consider the impact of the global Cornish Diaspora in countries like the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Comparisons with similar rural/industrial areas like Cumbria and Yorkshire will be incorporated, particularly given the importance of Cornish migration to other areas of Britain. International links will be developed in order to provide a framework for this study of ‘The Cornish World’.

Cultural Representations

How is Cornwall portrayed through the arts and media? There will be a particular emphasis on Cornwall’s sense of place in relation to such mediums as written texts, music, storytelling, film and photography. Such work will build on the oral history and digital storytelling projects of the Cornish Audio Visual Archive since it is envisaged that small research teams will use a multimedia approach to study the physical and cultural landscape. Markers of cultural distinctiveness such as the Cornish language, food, religion, dance and sport will be considered as part of an in-depth research programme. In order to stimulate research in relation to arts and culture there will be a new series of research seminars and workshops.