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Travels in imaginary landscapes : An analysis of four cultural historic guidebooks

Voyages en paysages imaginaires : une analyse de quatre guides culturels historiques
Grete Swensen et Karoline Daugstad


La commercialisation d’expériences et de produits liés au passé est en constante augmentation. Dans ce secteur, les guides ont pour but de présenter l’histoire culturelle à un marché touristique en plein essor. Notre étude, qui porte sur quatre guides culturels historiques, met l’accent sur quelques-unes des différences qui se font jour dans la façon dont les atouts du patrimoine national sont mis en évidence. Notre analyse révèle que les guides se révèlent plus restreints qu’il semblerait a priori, tant au niveau des formes de représentation que du genre littéraire. En optant pour une forme de représentation dominée par un style ou une écriture cartographique, où l’information factuelle joue un rôle prépondérant, le texte des guides confine le lecteur dans le rôle d’un observateur distancié. C’est essentiellement par le biais des illustrations que les atouts patrimoniaux servent de scène pour la contemplation, la participation ou l’aventure. Notre interprétation privilégie l’interaction entre les représentations du passé et la société contemporaine.

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1The market for selling experiences and products influenced by various connotations of the past is continuously increasing (AlSayyad et al., 2001 ; Chambers, 2009 ; Graham et al., 2000 ; Lowenthal, 1985, 1995 ; Novelli et al. ; 2005 ; Robinson, 2000 ; Russell, 2006 ; Svensson, 2000). Various factors serve to facilitate this process, and the result is a constant flow of “products” aimed at particular sections of the market (Miller, 2001). A new generation of tourists will have greater choice of travel venues and access to considerably more information and will see value in tourism experiences that support principles of environmental sustainability, heritage preservation and cultural diversity (Chambers, 2009). In this article, we focus on one particular section of this commodification of culture : cultural heritage as in single objects, cultural heritage environments and cultural landscapes. The questions asked are : What images are created of cultural heritage in travel guidebooks, and does an assumed commodification of cultural heritage in an expanding recreational market affect such images ?

2Cultural heritage’s role in the expanding recreational market is analysed by examining the textual and visual presentations in four cultural heritage guidebooks. We seek to discover whether certain aspects of history are accentuated, and to what extent this influences the form of presentation that is chosen. If cultural history and heritage assets are looked upon as potential tourist products, an inviting form of packaging might be a factor that plays a determining role in a competitive commercial market. We ask whether a purposive selection and a particular filtering takes place in order to influence the types of representation of cultural history and heritage, thereby leaving traces of idyll and nostalgia. The guidebooks typify a subsection of a wider genre of travel-writing ; as such, we raise the question of how each blends into the broader travel-writing genre, and examine the messages certain formats attempt to communicate to readers.

The travel-writing genre

3There are two main categories of travel-writing : one is atlases, guidebooks and maps, which are intended primarily as “factual” and “objective” accounts, while the other consists of personal and imaginative accounts of travel (Daugstad, 2000 ; Flatmoen, 1990). Travel-writing relates to Taylor’s (1994) “armchair travel” – the kind of travel across time and space in which the reader may decide for herself where she wants to stop and for how long she wishes to stay. This armchair tourism, enjoyed through books, albums, brochures and holiday guides, is a type of touring that can be done from home and, according to Taylor, represents a “seated” enjoyment of landscapes that seems free of constraints and most dangers (Taylor, 1994, pp. 6-7). The personal accounts within the border between fiction and documentation have raised interest among researchers in various disciplines – geography, literary criticism, cultural studies and history (Duncan & Gregory, 1997 ; Gilbert, 1999 ; Gruffudd et al., 2002 ; Melberg, 2005) –, and the main interest in travel-writing has evolved primarily around this category of books, although rather recently more focus has turned to the tourist guidebooks as well (Beck, 2006 ; Gilbert, 1999 ; Nishumara & King, 2007 ; Waterton, 2010 ; Zillinger, 2006). However, a travel guide whose primary purpose is to provide factual information must also seek a balance with cultural, historical and nostalgic representations. We examine how these different functions of fact and imagination appear in the text.

4A guidebook has to work within a restricted scope and size. Within this relatively clearly defined textual framework, it must additionally provide certain geographical, historical and cultural information ; hence, the combination of text and illustration is vital. A relatively neutral factual description can be enhanced by a spectacular or striking illustration, and thereby succeed in evoking an emotional response. Within a relatively congested format, a guidebook aims to fulfil the purpose of creating images which might stir interest and curiosity, encouraging people to visit the location.

Cultural historic guidebooks

5As a phenomenon cultural heritage has two major characteristics. One is the inherent time-dimension of all physical remains. Time has left traces from various uses over periods of time, and people of different periods have used such remains as tools to learn more about former generations’ ways of living. All this points to the role heritage plays as a source of historic knowledge (Hodder, 1991 ; Tilley, 1994). The other is related to heritage as “the contemporary use of the past”. This last description focuses particularly on the present needs that cultural heritage meets (Graham et al., 2000) and the particular ways in which the past can be interpreted to fulfil various purposes. Counter-arguments have been raised to the long prevailing hegemonic discourse in cultural heritage “where heritage is imagined as something old, beautiful, tangible and of relevance to the nation, selected by experts and made to matter” (Smith & Waterton, 2007, p. 29). As the cultural heritage discourse is far from permanent and fixed in time, changes continuously occur in accordance with broader societal changes. More focus on inclusive aspects in heritage approaches and management of the last decade is at least partly a result of globalisation and migration. In this paper focus is primarily directed to how heritage can be interpreted in view of processes in contemporary society.

6The guidebooks in this study are aiming to occupy a special niche of the tourism market. Urry (1990) was among the first to point to a transformation in production and consumption patterns which has taken place in recent years that has resulted in a convergence between tourism and heritage activities. The unique, and at the same time collective, nature of heritage resources means that such attractions have developed into a “special” niche in the industry (Apostolakis, 2003), a tendency towards heritage understood as entertainment (Taylor, 1994). Although guidebooks have been found to add to a stereotyped picture of certain tourist regions (Zillinger, 2006), cultural attractions can be found to contribute in creating the right environment for the visitor (Bonn et al., 2007). The recent heritage tourism boom has been criticized for being too strongly driven by nostalgia (see debate referred to in Caton & Santos, 2007).

7However, tourism and heritage are two sectors with different objectives and motivations. Tourism is primarily a commercial activity based on consumption of experiences and facilities. Tourist guidebooks may be used for a range of purposes ; learning, enjoyment, functional needs (Nishimura et al., 2007). Cultural heritage management might see tourism as an important collaborating partner, but tourism is only one of many parties that have to be taken into consideration. Cultural heritage management implies a focus on conservation ; hence, tourism and conservation requirements often emerge as incompatible (McKercher & Du Cros, 2002). The cultural heritage guidebooks in this study can be read in light of the specialised niche of heritage tourism. Though several are called handbooks, in this study they are classified as cultural historic guidebooks as they aspire to this particular niche of tourism.

Framing the research theme

Various ways of presenting and interpreting heritage

8In areas such as history and cultural studies, representations of the past have been used to better understand contemporary society and can be found in a number of different formats : from scientifically or professionally based presentations in museums, to a more explicit element based on instances of profit-making in tourism or when cultural heritage is used as a “brand” for various products (Graham et al., 2000 ; Hewison, 1987 ; Lowenthal, 1985, 1996 ; Waterton, 2010). In a commercial context, the many active ways in which history can be manipulated and packaged to attain particular goals are worthy of further investigation to assess whether representations of “the historic” occur as a result of attempts to glorify the past on a collective basis, or as a result of personal entrepreneurship which trades upon stereotyped illusions of the past. New imperatives of history as a discipline, such as attention towards narratives and the subjective dimension (Chartier, 1997 ; Munslow, 2007), are paralleled in guidebooks, whereby narratives concerning the past are presented in text and pictures.

9The text in the guidebooks can well be described as a sort of “congested text” insofar as traces of a variety of historical profiles and approaches are likely to be found. In the analysis of these texts, we ask what versions or elements of history the publishers are trying to communicate to readers ; and whether each text comprises primarily factual historical information or particular depictions aiming to evoke nostalgia.

10The cultural historic guidebook is one of various ways cultural heritage may reach a wider audience. The term “cultural heritage” is sometimes used metaphorical as containers for messages from the past. However, these messages are interpreted in the light of the reader’s personal experiences. “Reality” as the subjective perception of the world has a different appearance to distinct individuals and diverse social and ethnic groups. Different agents may construe and interpret the same functional patterns and phenomena in strikingly different ways, depending, for instance, upon gender, age, social status, religion, sexual orientation and ethnic origin (Ollila, 1999). Historians have been accused of presenting an idealised picture of what is perceived as a homogenous concept of a nation (Berkhofer, 1995 ; Iggers, 1999), and in some sectors of society – for instance, cultural heritage management and museums –, traces of such ideal pictures or images from its formative years of the late nineteenth century continue to linger (Daugstad, 2000). The exclusion of alternative stories is for instance obvious in some promotions of World Heritage Sites (Aronsson, 2006 ; Beck, 2006 ; Volden, 2011). The reason why some voices are louder and more easily heard than others is, of course, linked inextricably to politics and power structures. A fundamental issue that cultural heritage discussions must address is : who “owns” the right to interpret the heritage and enjoy it as such ; in other words, who determines its values and what it represents ? (Phelps et al., 2002, p. 189) There will always be parts of history that certain people will wish to forget – a dissonance that highlights the fact that heritage will always be a result of a process of selection wherein power relations and political influence play an essential part (Graham et al., 2000 ; Tunbridge & Ashworth, 1996 ; Phelps et al., 2002 ; Smith, 2006).

11The various ways the texts in the cultural heritage guidebooks have to relate to the established authoritative cultural heritage knowledge will be presented in the analysis of the texts. A dilemma may arise between presenting a story based on factual historic data and promoting saleable historical products, and in such situations will professional safe-guarders of heritage find themselves caught between the desire to educate and the need to entertain where historical tourism has become big business (Hutton, 1999 ; Russell, 2006). Both age and the degree of authenticity have long played important roles as criteria for defining cultural heritage assets. Attributes such as authenticity hold a particular value in offering a sense of being in the presence of the one and only “real thing”. Age lends further value to an original artefact, since it “proves” its standing in the test of time. It is “dependence on apparently unchanging belief systems of authoritative knowledge that distinguishes the authentic from the inauthentic as a natural matter of course” (Attfield, 2000, pp. 78, 97). Smith (2006) has labelled this framing of heritage the Authorised Heritage Discourse (AHD), and has written extensively on both the institutionalisation and its implications (Smith, 2006 ; Smith & Waterton, 2009). Being among the exclusive few in possession of authoritative knowledge to distinguish an original from a copy proves an insight into a specialised part of the history which might bestow upon individuals a cultural capital which can permit access to other fields of action. Such esoteric knowledge is by definition closed off from everyman, and thereby a quality at which to aim. The NGOs behind the analysed publications relate to these options in slightly different ways. Methods in use to “fence off” and secure knowledge against intruders are several, with language and specific terminology being some of the central features (Smith, 2006 ; Turnpenny, 2004). Examples of such methods will be presented in the analysis of the guidebooks.

The visual bias

12The travel-writing genre presenting cultural heritage and cultural landscapes mediates a visual approach, addressing the reader mainly as a spectator (to the text or when actually travelling among the objects and landscapes). Travel-writing and guidebooks directed mainly to tourists in many ways reproduces a general “hegemony of vision” argued to have dominated Western culture over the past several hundred years, where the eye is the sole medium for experiencing and understanding one’s surroundings (Lefebvre, 1991 ; Rorty, 1980 ; Tuan, 1993). In recent approaches to landscape more attention has been turned to the importance of personal affect however. It is argued that visual perception of landscape happens through a more general bodily engagement that involves all senses (Benediktsson & Lund, 2010).

13The visual bias emerges strongly in tourism-related literature through concepts such as “the tourist gaze” and “place consumption” (Urry, 1995, 2001). An example of visual hegemony is Taylor’s (1994) study of landscape, photography and the tourist’s imagination, where he focuses on the use of texts and pictures to represent England in ways tourists might wish to view this country. Part of his study includes a closer look at early representations of “Shakespeare Land”. In addition to entries in general tourists’ guides such as Baedeker’s, there were many penny handbooks and popular histories of Shakespeare and Stratford and the town’s surroundings. The importance of satisfying tourists was evident in the continuous supply of guidebooks. Tourists wanted the region made visually accessible to them : they wanted to have it brought to life and explained without having to work too hard. The guides, with their simple, illustrative use of drawings or photographs, promised tourists the certainty of an authentic relationship between themselves and the site deemed important. The guides and pictures directed everyone on the trail towards the approved experience. One of Taylor’s fundamental arguments in his study is that the category of “landscape” is primarily not a phenomenon of the natural lie of the land, or human geography, but an attribute of sight (Taylor, 1994).

14Proceeding from Taylor’s argument, the visual lopsidedness of the landscape concept becomes especially explicit in landscape studies within the field of geography, where the visual base of the concept can be traced back to the Italian Renaissance cartography and landscape-painting traditions. The experience of the landscape was merely visual, and the viewpoint from a distance outside the landscape in question. With the “linguistic turn” in the 1980s (Mitchell, 2000), landscape as a field of study was approached as a representation of ideology, value judgements or a symbol of power. This new turn has met some objections because it reproduces a visual ideology (stemming from the landscape painting tradition) more than offering a new perspective. This visual ideology is arguably based on a male view (seeing the landscape as an object) and on a Western worldview (Rose, 1993). Further, it has also been criticised for its total neglect of materiality as a focus of research (Demeritt, 1994 ; Olwig, 1996). The cultural turn and the critique that followed has brought to the fore another conceptualisation of landscape. This approach is partly a revival of materiality, or the organic landscape (Blomley, 2005 ; Duncan, 1995 ; Olwig, 1996, 2001). Duncan (1995) sees this materiality as part of an agrarian or rural landscape tradition as found in the mid-sixteenth-century Dutch landscape paintings. The Dutch approach conveyed a certain realism through images of people working with nature in everyday scenes (Setten, 2000). According to Ellenius (1992), this was part of a more “intimate” and realistic Northern European approach to landscape. Olwig (2000) suggests that the Nordic landscape concept is linked to a physically defined area, and also to the cultural and social traditions that confirm peoples’ sense of belonging – or feeling of territoriality – within this area. Landscape laws or customs are important ingredients in the Nordic landscape concept, and through customs the social and cultural mechanisms are inscribed in the landscape. A landscape is a territory “framing” action.


15The guidebooks in the study are selected because of the rather strong emphasis all four of them have placed on cultural heritage, presenting a variety of national heritage assets within a European context (figure 1). They represent illustrative examples of texts which share the aim to reach particular sections in the tourist marked with interest in cultural heritage, as well as sharing some formal traits, such as purpose, format and partly the same target groups. It should be stressed however that the analysis do not claim to be a representative study of heritage guidebooks as such. To assume that they are representative of all depiction of heritage in tourism discourse is reducing the complexity of heritage and of tourism as dynamic processes.

16A guidebook has to work within a restricted scope and size. Within this relatively clearly defined textual framework, it must additionally provide certain geographical, historical and cultural information ; hence, the combination of text and illustration is vital.

Figure 1a. Front page of Veiviseren.

Figure 1a. Front page of Veiviseren.

Photo/copyright : Svein Mangus Tveit, Sveio municipality (top), Johanne Marie Eidegard (middle) and Norsk Kulturarv (left and right).

Figure 1b. Front page of The National Trust Handbook.

Figure 1b. Front page of The National Trust Handbook.

Photo/copyright : The National Trust Photographic Library (NTPL).

17The Norwegian guidebook Veiviseren : A cultural historical guide to Norway (2004) is published by a non-governmental organisation named Norsk Kulturarv (“Norwegian Cultural Heritage”). Norsk Kulturarv was established in 1993 as a partly not-for-profit and partly commercial foundation that aims both to uphold cultural heritage and to promote it as an asset, especially in tourism. Today it has around 2000 members, and of these a considerable portion consists of owners of listed buildings, museums and so on. The book studied here is the third and revised edition of the guide, which is also available on the Internet. By paying a yearly membership fee to the organisation, members gain the right to publish their “products” in the guidebook, with a textual entry in the book supplemented by a photograph. The guidebook introduces approximately 600 different cultural heritage buildings or sites across Norway, including farms, museums and semi-official enterprises, in both rural and urban settings. The first part of the guidebook comprises a short introduction as well as an explanation of the symbols in use, followed by a map section. The country is divided into twenty-four regions, but none of them is presented separately, except for Norway’s five major towns.

18In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, The National Trust Handbook (2003) directs visitors to properties owned by the National Trust, a registered charity independent of government. More than 300 historic houses and gardens and forty-nine industrial monuments and mills are today under National Trust protection. It was established in 1895, and its work is based primarily on contributions from more than three million members. The organisation aims to conserve its properties and make them available to the public. All of the National Trust’s properties are presented in the guidebook alongside further buildings, historic gardens and nature protection areas that are owned either privately or by the state. Apart from a few exceptions, illustrations in this guidebook are provided by the National Trust Photographic Library. In addition to the introduction, the first part of the guidebook consists of an explanatory list of the symbols used throughout, followed by a map section, where Great Britain is subdivided into five regions. There is a richly illustrated introduction for each, highlighting its key cultural and historic areas. This handbook has been analysed by Waterton (2010).

19The Swedish guidebook Värt att se i Sverige (“Worth looking at in Sweden”) is produced by a well-established company, with a wide range of publications on offer. The guidebook was first published in 1979, and the updated 2001 edition is the most recent of a series of revised versions. It presents itself directly to the reader as “a travel guide for those of you who want a holiday with more content and fun […], ideal to keep in the glove compartment, to bring with you on a bicycle holiday or keep at home for planning expeditions”. A large group of collaborators in museums and tourist organisations have supplied relevant information. The first part of the guidebook has a short two-page introduction including an explanation of the symbols in use and a map locating the Swedish landscapes and their abbreviations. Each of the twenty-five landscapes has its own introduction describing important historical events. The editor has chosen to organise all the landscapes and the entries alphabetically. In the other guidebooks, geography has been one of the prime organising principles. Värt att se i Sverige also differs from Veiviseren and The National Trust Handbook by including considerably more tourist sites per entry.

20A Practical Guide for Pilgrims : The Road to Santiago (1995) is edited by Millán B. Lozano on behalf of the Centre for Studies into the Pilgrims’ Route to Santiago. It is a highly specialised guidebook, as its intention is to describe the path that the pilgrim on foot must take to follow in the track of ancient pilgrims. As the editor points out, there is a wider cultural and spiritual context beyond the physical details of the route. Information on its historical and cultural aspects has been included, but the aim of the guidebook is stated clearly to be to guide pilgrims on their journey and offer key information on the route. A brief introduction presents the aim, structure and selection criteria used in the guidebook, followed by a short section with practical advice for pilgrims. The main section of the guidebook describes two main routes : the first entails four stages (“Aragon Route”), and the second thirty-one stages (“Camino Frances”). The presentation of each stage along the two main routes is organised after the same structure : It starts with a section which is a description of the stage along the route, including a map – followed by a second section named History, art and legends – and a third section named Historical pilgrims’ accounts.

21The organising principle in the four guidebooks is somewhat different. The Norwegian and the guidebook for England, Wales and Northern Ireland are organised after the same principle : a textual entry in the book introduces each cultural heritage asset (property, site or monument), followed by practical information about facilities and sometimes illustrations. The Swedish guidebook tends to include a larger group of heritage assets per entry. In the pilgrim guidebook, the organising principle consists of describing stages along the route, with each heritage asset integrated into a single chapter (for example, “II : History, art and legends”).

22The intended readers of the four guidebooks are also slightly different. The members of the two NGOs represent the prime target groups in both the Norwegian and the guidebooks and the one covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, although the NGOs try to reach a wider circle via various channels. The Pilgrim Guide assumes a particular audience presumably more cognisant of the area and its history, although other studies have shown that there is a contemporary growth of new pilgrimage sites that are not associated with any specific religious traditions (Collins-Kreiner, 2010 ; Dallen & Olsen, 2006 ; Reader, 2007). The Swedish guidebook by the virtue of the fact that it is distributed by a well established publishing company is the guidebook among the four that reaches the broadest tourist market. Despite these important differences, we find that the four guidebooks share the general common traits presented introductorily that justifies classifying all of them as “cultural historic guidebooks”.

23The comprehensive material in the four guidebooks made it necessary to limit the material chosen for closer study. Some sections in each book were selected, ensuring that the analysed material covers a reasonable part of the total number of entries in each guidebook.

24With respect to Veiviseren (“VV”), we have examined 248 of the 580 entries (pp. 36–100 ; 300–400). One exception concerns cultural heritage in farming areas, where the selection has been extended (see comments below). Our selection from The National Trust Handbook (“NT”) comprises 250 of the total 392 (pp. 46–146 ; 272–375). Of the total 1221 entries in the Swedish guidebook (“SG”), 420 entries have been chosen (pp. 8–47 ; 112–39 ; 228–87). The selection made from the Spanish pilgrim guidebook (“PG”) consists of 246 entries. The analysed text covers 80 pages of a total of 230 pages (pp. 29–34 ; 61–104 ; 169–98).

25To enable systematic analysis of the texts and illustrations, tables were prepared ; these summaries constitute the basis for the numerical data presented in Table 1. A supplementary textural presentation of the use of maps is included in “Results” section.

Content analysis

26The method chosen for our analysis is essentially content analysis. This comprises noting the frequency of certain visual elements in clearly defined samples of images, and then analysing those frequencies (Rose, 2007, pp. 61- 62). Often this method is used to analyse large numbers of images in modern media. In her introduction to visual methodologies, Gillian Rose describes the main features in content analysis as “a way of understanding the symbolic qualities of texts”, otherwise understood as “the way that elements of a text always refer to the wider cultural context of which they are part” (Rose, 2007, p. 59). In this study the content analysis comprises both textual and visual (photographic) representations, and the text and the visuals are examined independently.

27Content analysis has sometimes been criticised as exclusively quantitative in its approach ; however, there are references to studies where a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodology has resulted in interesting interpretations (see, for instance, Lutz and Collins, 1993, referred to in Rose, 2007). Hesse-Biber and Leavy (2011) refer to content analysis as a “hybrid technique” with a potential for both qualitative and quantitative applications. In recent years other methods, for instance discursive analysis have supplemented content analysis as a method for qualitative analysis of texts, hereby meeting critic content analysis has met for not demanding reflexivity on the part of the researcher (Rose, 2007, p. 73). Special attention must be paid to the role played by the quantitative data in this cultural analysis : the data is not intended to be interpreted as indisputable fact. The classification of categories such as “representation type” is based on subjective judgements and estimations. There is a pervading tendency in the guidebooks of favouring descriptive adjectives, and this creates a certain amount of doubt regarding into which group a certain representation should be rightfully placed.

28Quantitative methods of comparisons have met some criticism due to their obscuring any case knowledge that fails to facilitate comparison, resulting in a situation where uniqueness and complexities risk being ignored (Stake, 2005). In this respect, the content analysis represents the opposite of what has been named “thick descriptions” (Geertz, 1973). Fully understanding reading as practice implies that a lot of supplementary questions have to be directed to the text : What is the role of the reader ? How far does meaning depend on the reader, and how far on the text ? (Alsop & Walsh, 1999). In this analysis, however, we have selected a content analysis as our method because it provides insight into the travel-writing genre that an analysis of one single guidebook could not provide.

Interpreting use of illustrations

29Since illustrations play an important part in the guidebooks, special attention will be given to the message they convey, as well as to the interplay that exists between textual and pictorial presentations. However, we will stress that this study primarily is a textual analysis. Other studies have focused on the powerful medium photographs have in tourism destination promotion, as they tend to cast the natural and cultural resources of a destination in the best light (Hunter, 2008). Of pictures, it is asserted that they should be understood as “powerful ways of constituting reality and not a way of merely recording it” (Smith et al., 2005, p. 346). This implies that photos can be interpreted as a particular way of structuring thoughts. The powers that lie in the hands of publishers and books designers have been described by Warner (1992). Based on his own experience as a landscape photographer, he has found that many of the final pictures chosen for a publication may turn out to be among the more appealing ones, with the result that the correlation between pictures and text is compromised. How an image is made, what it looks like and how it is seen are the three crucial ways in which a visual image may have cultural and other effects (Rose, 2007). The illustrations in guidebooks consist of both maps and photos. In the interpretation of the use of illustrations, the focus in this study is directed primarily to the effect the photos create.

Three major groups of questions

30The questions used to analyse the material can be divided into three major groups :

31Representations of the past. This group of questions concerns the image of the past that each entry in the guidebook attempts to put forward via textual representations. These representations have been divided into three umbrella classes of images : one primarily transmitting a sense of social realism ; one stamped by a neutral and fact-based text ; and the last imprinted primarily with an aura of harmony and idyll.

32The significance of age. The second group has the dimension of time as its focal point. Dating the origin of cultural heritage assets is considered essential in cultural management, particularly because determining origin and age plays an important role in the Norwegian Cultural Heritage Act, where cultural heritage older than 1537 is ensured protection. Here, we seek to discover whether the guidebooks indicate that determining the date of any asset plays a correspondingly important role ; whether particular attention is reserved for structures representing special periods ; and what level of importance is given to dating and indications of time.

33Use of illustrations and their role interpreted as attitudes to contemporary society. The third group concerns the use of illustrations and how they relate to the time dimension. Each illustration belongs to one of three separate groups : one depicting landscapes, cultural historic environments and heritage assets without human presence ; the second showing people in ordinary modern clothes ; and the third with people dressed in traditional costume. Our classification proceeds from an assumption that use of illustrations can make it possible to detect whether there is a tendency towards hiding or neutralising the impact that our own time has on heritage representation.

Table 1. A selection of presentations from four guidebooks.

Results from the examination of the four guidebooks

Q1 :
presentations of the past

Class 1 :
Drama or social-realism

Class 2 :
Neutral description

Class 3 :
Calmness & harmony

Case VV

9.3 %

73.8 %

16. 9 %

Case NT

6 %

74 %

20 %

Case SG

2. 4 %

91. 6 %

6 %

Case PG

4. 9 %

85.8 %

9. 3 %

Q2 :
The importance of age

Middle ages and earlier


Primary 18th

Primary 19th


Various epochs

After 1945- present time

No info

Case VV

8.5 %

3.6 %

4 %

11.3 %

10.1 %

44 %

3.6 %

14.9 %

Case NT

12.8 %

7.6 %

10 %

11.6 %

3.6 %

24 %

1.2 %

29.2 %

Case SG

8.8 %

1.9 %

6 %

4.3 %

3.5 %

56.2 %

3.8 %

9.3 %

Case PG

43. 1 %

2. 8 %

3. 6 %

0. 4 %


12.6 %

4.1 %

33.4 %

Q3 :
Use of illustrations

Cultural landscapes, cultural historic environments and heritage assets with no people present

People depicted in ordinary situations & clothing

People depicted in costumes referring to past times

Case VV

66.5 %

25.4 %

8.1 %

Case NT

91.1 %

8 %

0.9 %

Case SG

82.5 %

13.9 %

8 %

Case PG

88.2 %

11.8 %

0 %


Representations of the past

34There are some clear correlations in the way the textual presentations in all the four guidebooks reveal the heritage assets in their cultural historic context. The major group of entries in the guidebooks relates to descriptions orientated towards providing facts. This is the type classified as “neutral” in this study, and the information is often focused upon presenting the history of the place followed by a description of the surrounding nature and landscape (SG : 91.6 per cent ; PG : 85.8 per cent ; VV : 73.8 per cent ; NT : 74.8 per cent). In other words, the neutral and fact-based representation form dominates all four guidebooks. That both the Swedish and the Spanish guidebooks comprise primarily this presentation form is likely due to the organising structures in both guidebooks, where several heritage assets are included in a rather short and congested text. When it comes to representations chiefly concerned with idyll and harmony, the guidebook for England, Wales and Northern Ireland scores slightly higher than the rest (NT : 19.2 per cent ; VV : 16.9 per cent ; PG : 9.3 per cent ; SG : 6 per cent). With regard to representations involving social realism, the Norwegian guidebook has a slightly higher portion (VV : 9.3 per cent ; NT : 6 per cent ; PG : 4.9 per cent ; SG : 2.4 per cent). The degree of accordance is likely to stem from the strict conventions set within guidebook-writing as a genre.

The significance of age

35A rather striking feature in both the Swedish and the Norwegian guidebooks is the precision achieved by owners and managers of cultural heritage assets concerning reportage of age. In only a small group of entries is age not mentioned, and this group includes a few heritage sites where dating is irrelevant – for example, nature preservation areas and contemporary museums. The Spanish pilgrim guide contains the least information about age (33.4 per cent has no information). The fact that a fairly large number of heritage sites in the guidebook for England, Wales and Northern Ireland are not dated can partly be explained by the fact that such information is irrelevant for nature and landscape sites, which accounts for a considerable percentage of entries. In all the guidebooks, the largest group concerning the importance paid to age encompasses buildings from various periods, with the number at its highest in the Swedish case (56.2 per cent). It is not surprising that heritage assets from the Middle Ages and earlier are most frequently mentioned in the Spanish pilgrim guide, considering its particular topic. England, Wales and Northern Ireland also have a heritage stock which covers a larger time-span than Scandinavia, and the figures included in the wide category covering the Middle Ages and earlier are impressive (24 per cent), as are the heritage assets from the seventeenth century (7.6 per cent) and the eighteenth century (10 per cent). Heritage assets of as recent origin as the first part of the twentieth century occur most frequently in the pilgrim guide (4.1 per cent). Heritage from England, Wales and Northern Ireland from 1945 to the present time is minimal.

36The older the cultural product, the greater the value ascribed to cultural heritage ; and it comes as no surprise that the ancient cultural products receive the most attention. What is startling is the precision found in dating ; and that dating of cultural heritage from 1920 onwards is considered as important as dating a prehistoric site. This can be interpreted as a sign that particular significance is given to placing the cultural heritage in a wider context. Apart from providing the opportunity to travel to a geographical location that offers cultural historic experiences and adventures, the guidebook also presents a chance to travel in time. This occurs as a result of the juxtaposition of medieval and prehistoric times with glimpses from contemporary society.

37However, one significant difference occurs between the guidebooks in the way references are made to age and origin. On several occasions, particularly in the Spanish pilgrim guide and the National Trust handbook, this information is presented implicitly or indirectly, by referring to historical events, phenomena or periods without actually providing a date. For instance, the text in the National Trust handbook takes for granted that visitors know when Queen Anne or King Edward reigned, or when a Tudor manor house was erected. It presupposes that visitors share the implicit knowledge of the particular “periodisation” methodology used in history and art history as a tool in reconstructing the past (Kjeldstadli, 1992, p. 213). However, these assumptions serve to exclude those visitors with limited historical knowledge.

Use of illustrations

38The most marked differences between the guidebooks can be seen in the use of illustrations. All guidebooks have a preference for portraying heritage sites without humans present. This group of illustrations – by far the largest – belongs to a type which can be described as eternal (or perpetual) : there are no people, cars or other “disturbing” elements from our own time which would place any site within a specific time period. As readers, we can travel back in time and attempt to partake in another reality, where these structures and cultural environments were new and part of a dynamic society. These photographs inspire a certain calmness. Such photographs of “time immobile” greatly dominate the material from England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Spanish material (NT : 91.1 per cent ; PG : 88.2 per cent), but they also play an important role in the two Scandinavian guidebooks (SG : 82.5 per cent ; VV : 66.5 per cent) (figure 2).

Figure 2. This illustration from The National Trust Handbook is from West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire and succeeds in leaving traces of idyll and nostalgia.

Figure 2. This illustration from The National Trust Handbook is from West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire and succeeds in leaving traces of idyll and nostalgia.

Photo/copyright : NTPL/Alasdair Ogilvia.

39The Norwegian guidebook contains the highest percentage of heritage illustrations with people present. There is an active and living atmosphere in such photographs, portraying children in horse carriages and people sailing in old boats, and so on (figure 3). These pictures manage to communicate a message that people can involve themselves in cultural heritage, in the past as well as in the future (VV : 25.4 per cent ; SG : 13.9 per cent ; PG : 11.8 per cent ; NT : 8 per cent). This third group of representations aims to create a sense of the past by having people appear in the pictures dressed in either genuine or re-created folk costumes. These illustrations play on illusions : they depict a stylised representation of the past. Here, the differences between the guidebooks are marked (VV : 8.1 per cent ; SG : 8 per cent ; NT : 0.9 per cent ; PG : 0 per cent), and dressing people in traditional costumes occurs primarily in the two Scandinavian guidebooks.

Figure 3. Illustration from the regional museum Jærmuseet.

Figure 3. Illustration from the regional museum Jærmuseet.

Photo : Jærmuseet

40A factor which might have influenced the differences between the guidebooks to some degree relates to the origins of the photographs. All photographers are named in the Spanish pilgrim guide and the Swedish guide ; and in the latter, it is also stated that many of the pictures were taken by Sweden’s best photographers. The majority of the photographs in the guidebook from England, Wales and Northern Ireland come from the National Trust Photographic Library, and here also all the photographers are named. This indicates the use of professional photographers, who presumably aspire to high aesthetic ideals. The Norwegian photographs, however, are delivered by members of Norsk Kulturarv, who are also the authors of the guidebook. It is most likely that a large number of these pictures were taken by amateur photographers.

Use of maps

41In the three of guidebooks the maps are based on roadmaps and are presented in a way which highlights each region. In Veiviseren there are 24 such sheet maps which are placed in the first section of the book alongside the presentation of 12 symbols which have been used to help describe what is available at each site. In the National Trust Handbook the maps are labelled “area maps” and there are seven such maps included in the introductory section. Each area map is given a specific colour. This colour scheme is following the areas through the rest of the book. The first page in each area section presents a simplified map of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which only show the contour of the nation. The respective area in question is highlighted in white. A similar simplified map is used in the Norwegian Guidebook, but here the map which shows the contour of the country is included in each presentation, where the region the presentation refers to is highlighted in a different colour than the country itself. It makes both guidebooks easy to orientate in. The maps play a more subordinate role in the Swedish Guidebook. In the introduction a small black and white map shows the contour of the country alongside a list of the names and abbreviations for the 25 counties in Sweden. Throughout the book a regional map is presented in the introduction for each of the counties, where each presentation of a cultural heritage site is indicated with a black dot. The guidebook which uses the maps most active is The Spanish Pilgrim Guidebook. The 31 routes are all supplied with a route map. They are illustrating each stage of the march. Here the pilgrims’ way is plotted, and geographical features, the towns and villages on or near the pilgrims’ way and the services available etc. are marked as well. On each route map the ordinary motor road is marked in black alongside the pilgrim way which is indicated with a red dotted line. There is a slight difference in the level of integration of the maps in the four guidebooks. They can function as reliable means in the process of planning a satisfactory visit to various cultural heritage sites. But it is only in the Pilgrim Guidebook that the integration between the text, illustrations and maps are interdependent and the integration is total.

Discussion : How to sell history

The presence of the past

42We shall now return to the preliminary questions we raised : Are certain aspects of the historic process accentuated ? And if this is the case, to what extent does this influence the type of representation that is chosen ? Does a form of selection and filtering take place which influences the manner in which cultural history and heritage are presented, creating traces of idyll and nostalgia ? We shall discuss these matters in light of the first set of questions guiding the analysis ; that is, the options of historical themes presented in the opening section.

43Before we examine more closely the three categories of images that the textual representations contain, we must stress that not only is the historic dimension present in the textual representation, but so is also the case on a more fundamental level concerning the ideological platforms upon which the NGO associated with three of the guidebooks bases its work. Both the guidebook from England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Norwegian NGOs are motivated by a conviction that conservation management is essential for future sustainable development. In this article, however, our key focus is upon textual and pictorial representations. It could be added that there are many examples of travel guidebooks on the marked with varying quality regarding graphics, illustrations, organization and accuracy of information, which may fail to communicate a convincing story. The four guidebooks in this study do not belong to that category of guidebooks however.

44In the majority of representations characterised as neutral and descriptive, a cartographic method was found to dominate. The text is marked by respect for exact location as well as precise dating. By choosing this way of communicating with its readers, basic historical data may be relayed within a limited available space, a style recognisable from secondary school set books. This format promotes the stance of an outsider, memorising basic facts but having no actual involvement. These texts enable the reader to answer “when ?” and “where ?”, but questions such as “why ?” and “to whom ?” appear to be considered of less relevance. This is in parallel to the traditional, visually dominated “outsider’s” approach to landscape, stemming from the landscape painting tradition where landscape is looked at but not engaged with (Daugstad, 2000, 2008).

45The elements of historic narration which appear in the texts fulfil different functions. National story-telling is not pronounced (with a few exceptions, such as the mentioning of places related to important historic events or prominent national writers or artists). As a means to promote territorial distinctiveness and identity, it functions more obviously on a regional and local level, partly due to the organisation of the texts in sections highlighting regional features. It is most marked in the guidebook covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the importance the maps play in geographical guidance adds to this effect in all the guidebooks. Due to the specialised topic dealt with by the pilgrim guide, the narrative aspect plays a more central role here, but it still shares the majority of traits found in the other guidebooks analysed in this study.

46In the Swedish, Norwegian and the guidebook from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, fractions of insight into social history – portraying the struggles which have taken place for survival and recognition, power and positions – are transmitted by factual descriptions of the cultural heritage that remains (that is, homes and workplaces) of crofters, industrial workers, estate craftsmen and small-scale farmers. A critical reader would question the absence of poverty, evictions and riots. By concentrating chiefly on this neutral depiction of the context based upon the heritage values, it is possible for the reader to place herself in a distanced position ; addressing matters of inequality, uneven distribution of power and capital accumulation, and so on, would only mar the sense of idyll. The option to make comparisons between poverty and wealth is available – but without guidance – to the persistent reader ; this is the case in all the guidebooks (figure 4). In the guidebooks fractions of insight into social history – portraying the struggles which have taken place for survival and recognition, power and positions – are mainly transmitted by factual descriptions of the cultural heritage that remains.

Figure 4. This illustration in The Swedish guidebook shows a photo of the alms-box outside the church Admiralitetskyrkan in Karlskrona.

Figure 4. This illustration in The Swedish guidebook shows a photo of the alms-box outside the church Admiralitetskyrkan in Karlskrona.

Photo : Region Blekinge.

47Cultural heritage forms an essential part of any nation’s cultural capital, whether it is owned privately, or by a state or region (Daugstad et al., 2006). The guidebooks covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Norwegian guidebook illustrate well not only the assets each country contains, but also the dilemmas and costs associated with the maintenance of large estates and mansions. In many cases, individual cultural capital, such as ownership of a stately home, must be shared with the public to secure financial resources and subsequently the upkeep of the property. The threshold between private and official space is defined by the owners by their need for financial capital from entrance fees, rental income, sales and so on. Another aspect related to the concept of cultural capital is the implicit knowledge revealed by the selection of particular words and phrases. The implicit or indirect way in which the National Trust guidebook often refers to the time aspect, by alluding to historical events, phenomena or periods without actually dating them, creates a distinction between people with and without such a form of cultural capital. It sets a boundary between people familiar and unfamiliar with the terminology of British history – and might have the effect of marginalising visitors with limited education in British history. Certain “inside knowledge” is a prerequisite, serving otherwise as a mechanism of exclusion. This aspect also characterises parts of the textual presentations in the Spanish pilgrim guide. The difference in the level of a priori knowledge required might partly be ascribed to different regimes through history where particularly Norwegian, but also Swedish society to a certain degree has been more egalitarian, without extensive landed elite. This presumption is rather speculative however in this context and will have to be studied closer elsewhere.

The view to and from the landscape

48The major difference between the representations in the guidebooks can be found in the illustrations. Although there is a marked preference in all cases for choosing photographs which communicate a sense of timelessness, there are also distinct disparities in the messages conveyed by the other pictures.

49The presence of vitality and activity is largely absent in the pilgrim guide and the National Trust handbook. The different national contexts of the guidebooks related to this aspect can be tied to an underlying understanding of the landscape concept and the element of passive outsider versus active insider position. According to Olwig (2000), the Nordic landscape concept is linked to a physically defined area, and also to the cultural and social traditions that confirms peoples’ sense of belonging – or feeling of territoriality – within this area. A landscape is a territory “framing” action. Temporality relates to active landscape use as well, and the close connection which exists between time and space has been stressed by Bladh, who describes it as “a woven time-space fabric, where the threads consist of human subjects, artefacts, activities and occurrences” (1995, p. 19). A similar argument is used by Ingold when he introduces the notion “taskscape” to underline the active human and cultural dimension in the environment (Ingold, 2000, p. 154, 175). It can be stated in conclusion that this visuality-versus-activity approach to landscape is reflected in the guidebooks included in this study.

The importance placed on visuality

50Visualisation, aesthetification and the concept of the gaze play a central role in theories of looking and spectatorship in modernity (Sturken & Cartwright, 2009). A separation has taken place of sight and seeing from its material contexts, and has led to a quantification, standardization and abstraction of the observable world (Schirato & Webb, 2010). As this analysis has shown, the illustrations play a central role in the guidebooks. Within a small section of a vast marked they contribute to underline major societal developmental processes which gradually have taken place during the last hundred years. By paying attention to the visualization focus we hope the paper will stimulate future research. An interesting theme for a critical analysis is the government and private firm websites. As the use of new social media is rapidly growing, information via web sites are partly replacing the role the ordinary textual guidebooks former played in planning adventures and holidays. We would like to encourage an expanded inquiry into media dealing with visual images.


51This study has been instigated by an interest to better understand the role that cultural heritage plays in today’s recreational market. Most cultural historic guidebooks have as paramount objective to present cultural heritage information. Visitors to cultural heritage sites however, have other requirements and needs as well, and cultural historic environments imbued with symbolic values represent a suitable setting for introducing tourists and new groups of consumers to a set of exclusive and unique cultural products.

52The content analysis has revealed that cultural historic guidebooks are more restricted in their forms of representation and as a writing genre than we had presumed. By choosing a representation form dominated primarily by a cartographic style of writing, where factual information about age, situation, regional characteristics and so forth plays a dominant role, the text in the guidebooks places the reader in the role of a distanced observer. A congested description of each heritage asset offers the reader the option to pick out the most useful information and ignore the rest. No emotional involvement is expected from the reader at this stage. It is mainly via the illustrations that the heritage assets act as a site for contemplation, involvement or adventure. Despite minor differences, the majority of the illustrations in the four guidebooks represent an image of “the past as a foreign country”, to use Lowenthal’s (1985) phrase, where time has come to a standstill ; this is a nostalgic country we may withdraw to for reflection and contemplation. This has the effect John Taylor so well expresses : “Whereas nostalgia ordinarily might be a suspect, enervating feeling that hinders a realistic assessment of the present, tourists actively use nostalgia to remove them temporarily from the present” (Taylor, 1994, p. 230).

53Our study nuances the view that travel-writing is synonymous primarily with a popular writing genre dominated by a glorified and highly stylised image of a past for sale. The various promoters of cultural history are primarily loyal to the idea that more knowledge of and insight into the past might add to the quality of life of modern people, mixing harmony and harsh realism in moderate quantities into a predominantly neutral description of cultural history. What they succeed in doing is fulfilling the need experienced by many urban dwellers for a temporary visit into a tranquil world, with an advantageous side effect of possibly contributing to the preservation of the asset, either through increasing awareness or raising financial capital.

The paper is a result from the project “Agriculture’s role as upholder of cultural heritage”, which was carried out as a co-operation between researchers from Centre for Rural Research, Norway and the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, funded by The Norwegian Research Council in 2003-2005. Its primary focus has been directed to the part of cultural heritage which is linked to agriculture, and a question raised has been how various actors within policy and management relate their arguments to legitimate (new) uses for agriculture’s cultural heritage (Daugstad et al., 2006). We would like to thank the anonymous referees for useful comments.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1a. Front page of Veiviseren.
Crédits Photo/copyright : Svein Mangus Tveit, Sveio municipality (top), Johanne Marie Eidegard (middle) and Norsk Kulturarv (left and right).
Fichier image/jpeg, 4,2M
Titre Figure 1b. Front page of The National Trust Handbook.
Crédits Photo/copyright : The National Trust Photographic Library (NTPL).
Fichier image/jpeg, 176k
Titre Figure 2. This illustration from The National Trust Handbook is from West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire and succeeds in leaving traces of idyll and nostalgia.
Crédits Photo/copyright : NTPL/Alasdair Ogilvia.
Fichier image/jpeg, 10M
Titre Figure 3. Illustration from the regional museum Jærmuseet.
Crédits Photo : Jærmuseet
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
Titre Figure 4. This illustration in The Swedish guidebook shows a photo of the alms-box outside the church Admiralitetskyrkan in Karlskrona.
Crédits Photo : Region Blekinge.
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
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Grete Swensen et Karoline Daugstad, « Travels in imaginary landscapes : An analysis of four cultural historic guidebooks »Belgeo [En ligne], 3 | 2012, mis en ligne le 18 mars 2013, consulté le 26 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Grete Swensen

Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research,

Karoline Daugstad

Department of Geography, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Centre for Rural Research, Norway,

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