The absent presence of Paul Robeson in Wales: Appropriation and philosophical disconnects in the memorial landscape

Document Type


Publication Date



Department of Social Sciences


Memorialisation of specific individuals necessitates processes of remembering and forgetting, memory work, and obfuscation. The African American Paul Robeson is considered an “honorary Welshman” and a “Welsh achiever.” How could Robeson, erased from the history books in his own country, be appropriated by popular vote as a Welsh national hero? This paper questions how Robeson’s philosophies, evident in his arts and actions, were memorialised into those of a Welsh hero through the theoretical lens of absent presence and geographies of biography. I explore this relationship between Wales and Robeson further to understand his influence and commemorative presence in Wales via the material memorial landscape of Robeson and how he is represented within broader Welsh memorialisation and nationalism. Through the discourse of the memorial landscapes of Wales, elements of his philosophy may be over- or under-represented. For example, he connected with the strong socialist history in Wales, but the complexity of Robeson’s philosophical framework remains absent. Why were only some of his philosophical beliefs transmitted into Welsh society and the memorial landscape? This paper reveals both the presence and absence of Paul Robeson’s complex biography in the material memorial landscape in Wales. As a case study on the inclusion of (auto)biographical knowledge in the context of complex geographies and landscapes, this work frames biographical inclusion and exclusion as vital geographic concerns, particularly in the precarious Black geographies of Paul Robeson in Wales. In so doing, it further reifies the indelible connections between geography, biography, and the socio-political contexts from which memorial landscapes emerge.

Publication Title

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers