Heritage tourism and English national identity

Palmer, Catherine (1998) Heritage tourism and English national identity. Doctoral thesis, University of North London.


The aim of this thesis is to investigate the influence of heritage tourism on the creation and maintenance of English national identity. How this industry utilises the material and symbolic resources of this nation's cultural heritage is thus a primary focus of this work. More specifically, it is concerned with examining the components of Englishness and the social processes by which these are communicated and understood.

This investigation focuses upon three sites, Battle Abbey in East Sussex, Hever Castle in Kent and Chartwell, also in Kent. The primary research methods are ethnographic. A triangulation of methods are employed including: the review and analysis of books, documents, published and unpublished material relating to each site, tape recorded interviews with site employees, managers and other relevant individuals and groups, covert observation of visitors and tape recorded interviews with a random selection of visitors. Two hundred visitors were interviewed in total.

In all three sites the language and symbolism of nation-ness is shown to be central to the way in which identity and belonging is both constructed and communicated. A key finding relates to the studies of visitor behaviour which reveal the many ways in which attachment to the nation is understood and internalised. For example, the intermingling of phrases and images of home, family, kinship, ancestors and common blood, with expressions of emotion and feeling connect individuals to the wider nation. In addition, from the analysis of the three sites certain key thematic threads are highlighted which bind the sites together, namely, religion and patriotism. These, whilst not the only aspects of Englishness to emerge from the sites, are considered central to the formation of Englishness in this instance. Overall, then, in the language of heritage tourism the three sites claim to symbolize fundamental aspects of English nationalism. Battle Abbey is our way of life, Hever Castle is our ancestral line and Chartwell is Churchill, our honorary relative. The sites thus present the nation as a family. As a group of relations with a common history, a common set of values and beliefs and as possessing common basic characteristics. It is these felt kinship ties that are said to bind individuals to the wider nation.

This thesis has contributed to the study of Englishness and its relationship with heritage tourism. It is one of the few studies to examine this concept in terms of what individuals, as both employees and tourists, actually say, feel and how they behave.

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