Beyond a Boundary: C. L. R. James in Glasgow

May 13, 2013

Scotland and the Caribbean?   The architecture of Glasgow tells a dramatic story.   Here, in the center of town, is  the many-pillared Gallery of Modern Art,  monumental  even for a museum, which used to be the house of William Cunninghame when Glasgow was the eighteenth-century port of entry for tobacco and sugar cane.   All the grand mansions in the city were built on that transatlantic trade.

The University of Glasgow has now hosted a conference to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Beyond a Boundary, C. L. R. James’ book on cricket, taking advantage of a new global  initiative to bring speakers from abroad.  The conference itself was organized by Sociology, Geography, as well as English, an interdisciplinary consortium with a shared interest  in James, and more generally in maritime networks in the making of modernity.

I can’t think of another conference with so many sports fans — organizers, speakers, attendees — several of them serious athletes themselves.   (Chris Gair, head of English, is at this very moment participating in the triathlon at Lanzarote.)   The usual suspects were all here: Robert Hill, James’s literary executor; Selma James, who had married James in 1955 and was with him when he wrote the book; and Mike Dibb, BBC filmmaker with two documentaries on James to his credit.

Also here was Mike Brearley, OBE, captain of the cricket teams of Cambridge University, Middlesex, and England from 1961 to 1983.   Brearley sounded like an intellectual (he’d been an analyst for the past 20 years); his talk was on different scales of knowledge, from practical hands-on techniques perfected by the players, to larger understanding of the place of cricket in the world.  Looking him up, I learned that his association with cricket had always been intertwined with his opposition to apartheid.  In the late 1960s,  working closely with John Arlott, iconic BBC commentator, he had called for the cessation of all tours to South Africa.  The South African 1970 tour to England was then also cancelled, and South Africa was officially excluded from Test cricket for 21 years, to be reinstated only in 1991, when the de Klerk government lifted the ban on the African National Congress and released Nelson Mandela.

Yes, all of that and much more, embedded in cricket.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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