Schwarz on Grenier, 'Tourism and Identity in Scotland, 1770-1914: Creating Caledonia'

Katherine Haldane Grenier
Angela Schwarz

Katherine Haldane Grenier. Tourism and Identity in Scotland, 1770-1914: Creating Caledonia. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. x + 249 pp. $94.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7546-3694-6.

Reviewed by Angela Schwarz (Department of History, University of Siegen, Germany) Published on H-Travel (December, 2006)

No Longer Barren, Primitive and Rebellious: Modern Life, Tourism and the Reinterpretation of Scotland in the Long Nineteenth Century Imagine the meeting of the present with the past. Or, imagine the past as a foreign country, as David Lowenthal titled his study on the Victorians' perception of their society as new, modern, and separated from previous centuries (The Past Is a Foreign Country, 1985). Both of these images come to mind as fitting descriptions of Katherine Haldane Grenier's study of tourism in Scotland during the long nineteenth century. According to Grenier, throughout the nineteenth century, middle- and upper-class English men and women, along with their North American counterparts, saw Scotland as a foreign country--literally and figuratively. In the literal sense, Scotland, or the northern part of the United Kingdom, was, as a geographical location, different from the well-known space of everyday life in England. Scotland was thus a territory that could be toured, experienced, and physically appropriated. In the figurative sense, Scotland was an idea or an imagined space, and, as such, it could be mentally appropriated by the English middle and upper classes. Yet, the English image of Scotland was not static, it was constantly reinterpreted and reconstructed. The most dramatic aspect, of this ongoing process of "creating Caledonia," was the transformation of Scotland's image from that of a hopelessly backward province to a romantic, pristine landscape and retreat from the ills of modernity and technology. Grenier takes her readers on an insightful and fascinating tour of this process, drawing attention to the changing forms of travel, of seeing and interpreting Scotland's scenery, population, traditions, and history.

Previous studies of the history of tourism in Scotland have concentrated on the process of "tartanization" or "Balmoralization," or on the way the Scottish people reacted to attempts by outsiders to define their identity. Focused on the reaction of Scottish locals to outside definitions of Scotland, such studies have paid very little attention to the outsiders themselves. A study of the motives of English travelers and their impact on Scotland promises great intellectual rewards, however, as these topics fit into the larger picture of the emergence of modern society. By examining English formulations of Scotland and Scottishness, Grenier successfully takes the subject matter well beyond the history of travel, travel literature, and the anthropological constant of defining an other. Grenier does this by exploring such issues as: what does the tourist gaze reveal about the sightseers? What motivated these sightseers to construct such a gaze? To what extent did they allow the other to participate in this construction? Grenier derives her answers from a detailed look into guidebooks, travel accounts, diaries, and newspaper articles written by contemporaries from England, America and Scotland. She includes a couple of American tourists to show how widely disseminated the English image of Scotland--an image created in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries--was. Indeed this image of Scotland is so enduring, that it is still vivid in the minds of present-day travelers.

Before the rise of tourism in Scotland, during the second half of the eighteenth century, the English image of Scotland was not merely critical but downright negative. Government officials and army officers set the tone. They described the scenery as gloomy and barren, and the populace as primitive and politically rebellious. When, according to English commentators, Scottish patriotism no longer threatened the British Union, this earlier, negative image of Scotland began to give way to a more positive, romantic one. From this point on, tourism had a permanent foothold in Scotland. This transformation was largely the work of the thinkers and poets of the Scottish Enlightenment and the Romantic movement. As Grenier points out, no writer had a greater influence on the romanticization of Scotland than Walter Scott. He contributed significantly to the reinterpretation of Scotland's landscape and folk culture. In addition to the great Romantics, less famous poets, scenic tourists, improvers, antiquarians, naturalists, and other kinds of travelers toured the country and walked the paths, which were to become the beaten tracks of their nineteenth-century successors. At the turn of the nineteenth century, before the advent of mass tourism, even the Highlands, the former epitome of everything rejected or even loathed in Scotland, were incorporated into the creation of Britishness. The early process of "mapping North Britain" is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the study, evoking more questions about the reasons for this change than Katherine Grenier can answer--a limitation which arises from the kinds of material she analyzes. Perhaps only a painstaking analysis of a piece of autobiographical writing on travel to Scotland, produced at that crucial turning-point, may solve the underlying question: what exactly made Scotland such a fascinating place to visit, such that it attracted a steadily increasing number of visitors, both male and female? Why did they venture out on a journey that was far from safe or exclusively pleasurable?

By the early part of the nineteenth century, touring Scotland had become fashionable. As the second stage of Grenier's journey (chapter 2, "Development of Mass Tourism, 1810-1914") demonstrates, these new travelers to Scotland were assisted in their tours by fiction and nonfiction writing alike. Books on Scotland further assisted English travelers in their imagined and actual tours of Scotland. Unsurprisingly, these works reflected the changing perceptions of Scotland. Guidebooks, for example, which in the eighteenth century had included examples of Scottish industrialization and its increasing commercial prowess, now concentrated on encouraging visitors to seek out romantic vistas and rural landscapes. In their search for the romantic Scottish countryside, nineteenth-century English tourists self-consciously followed the routes of their eighteenth-century predecessors. They also sought to emulate eighteenth-century ways of seeing and feeling. The English desire to see Scotland as a vestige of the pre-industrialized past was so powerful that, despite the fact that advances in technology (above all the steam engine and railway) made their journey to the Highlands possible, English tourists continued to see the Scottish Highlands as untouched by time.

The parallels are striking when comparing how early Victorian tourists perceived their journey and their encounter with a foreign country and its people to the perceptions of present-day travelers. Present-day visitors to Tuscany, Crete, or even the Scottish Highlands have much in common with their historical counterparts. Participants in organized tours rush through a country, past the sights they must see; they enjoy rural landscapes as the antidote to the congested, industrialized cities they call home; they neglect to note the contrast between the positive image they prefer and the reality of poverty, and social and political injustice. In the end, they come to see exactly what they came to see.

Three more stages follow on the readers' journey through the emergence of mass tourism in Scotland, highlighting the tourists' perceptions of the natural world, of the Scottish past, and of the Highlanders. It is here that English travel to Scotland, and Grenier's analysis of the literature produced in its wake, comes closest to the intertwining of the past and the discovery of a foreign country. It is here, too, that the process of reinterpreting Scotland reaches its climax. Scottish landscape was re-constructed as a retreat from the effects of industrialization and the march of technology, as a sanctuary from transitoriness, as a place not to reject industrialization but to find limits to its consequences. A look at the past reaffirmed the Scottish contribution to the British Union. As the antithesis of the modern age, Scotland, as seen by tourists, helped to make the ongoing transformations of industrial society more acceptable. For in the end, no visitor wished to prolong his or her stay in this timeless place indefinitely.

In short, English visitors saw what they had come for to see. Nonetheless, they did not simply take for granted what guidebooks and travel accounts--many of them written by Scottish authors--made them believe. The English travelers also imbibed Scottish constructions of Scottish identity. One particularly forthright attempt to do so was connected to the Land Wars or Crofters' Wars of the 1880s, when local farmers staged rent strikes and demanded fixity of tenure and more liberal grazing rights. This went against the tourist image of Scottish farmers as members of a content, virtuous tradition-loving folk culture far from contemporary social and economic disturbances. However, such moments could but scratch the surface of longstanding stereotypes, since the tourist gaze and the image of Scotland were too firmly established by then. As Grenier shows at the end of her own tour (in a postscript), recent attempts to create new images, e.g. presenting Edinburgh or Glasgow as vibrant cultural metropoli, still have to make their way into public consciousness. In contrast, those who choose to follow Grenier on her journey into the tourist transformation of Scotland, will have an easy passage, they will discover a territory no longer barren, primitive, or unknown.

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Citation: Angela Schwarz. Review of Grenier, Katherine Haldane, Tourism and Identity in Scotland, 1770-1914: Creating Caledonia. H-Travel, H-Net Reviews. December, 2006. URL:

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