Hale, A. (2001) 'Representing the Cornish. Contesting heritage interpretation in Cornwall', in Tourist Studies, 1(2): 185 - 196.
Tourism is a controversial topic in Cornwall, especially since the 1980s. Traditional industries have declined, but so have traditional seaside holidays, hence an emphasis on culture and heritage tourism. However, Cornish heritage is politically sensitive, since many Cornish do not consider themselves to be English, and a sense of difference from England seems to be growing. As a result, some heritage initiatives have been used to express resistance to centralisation and Anglicization. Earlier notions of romantic Celtic isolation have also been contested. As a result, alternative tourist gazes may be emerging.
The tourist construction of Cornwall has been seen as an imposition rather than a neutral form of economic development. Many tourist enterprises are not Cornish-run. The expansion of second home ownership has been controversial. As with other areas of Europe, 'outsiders' have been excluded and resisted. [Hale's evidence here seems to involve an increased interest in the Cornish language, and a widespread display of Cornish flags -- in my experience, enthusiasts for both are quite likely to be recent migrants to Cornwall and not established Cornish people].
Cornish identity was traditionally linked to mining and fishing, leading to 'the lived experience of Cornish people... [as]... working class and based in the industrial experience (Deacon, 1988)' (187). Cornwall as an exotic romantic place owes much to the efforts of the Great Western Railway attempting to stimulate tourism in the 19th century. However, early Cornish nationalists also borrowed themes to develop notions of 'Celtic "Otherness"' (187). Both have come together in a specific 'cult of the picturesque', although the industrial landscape tends to be particularly backgrounded in favour of 'the natural'. The inhabitants easily then become themselves natural -- 'primitive, passive and perhaps easily exploited' (188).
Tourism has not generated prosperity for the locals, and there are the usual worries about inauthentic attractions and the impact of a 'commodified Cornish culture' (188). However, heritage tourism can also be empowering, and its effects more complex. The usual kind of empirical tourism research focuses on specific audience responses, usually considering 'authenticity'. However, 'interaction and input from the host community' needs addressing too (189).
Only recently have Cornish activists attempted to use heritage to rescue a notion of Cornishness, and heritage is still largely organised by national bodies such as English Heritage and the National Trust. The former has begun to encounter 'resistance'. English Heritage run a variety of sites in Cornwall, and there have been critics who argue that their interpretations are not authentic and are 'monarchist, centralist and assimilationist' (190). [Here, Hale refers to some field research conducted 'with Cornish nationalists and other Cornish cultural activists', written up in her thesis]. Petitions have been circulated and interpretive signs defaced and/or replaced with bilingual ones. Demonstrations have been staged -- one in 1999 evoked the Cornish Prayerbook rebellion of 1549 [and the notion of Holocaust denial -- rather excessive?!]. There is now a website.
This is not mere vandalism, although there are several reasons for the activity. Protests are directed at the wider tourist industry as well, although English Heritage seems to be a particular focus for a kind of cultural politics. However, whether cultural imperialism is conscious 'is debatable' (191). Cornish difference is not particularly emphasised in tourist interpretation, however. Cornish working-class culture is particularly minimal, even compared to similar sites in other English regions. Overall, there seems to be little community consultation, resulting in a '"top-down" or "experts" view of Cornish culture' (194).
There is a new Cornish narrative emerging, strongly based on the industrial past, promoted by association such as the Trevithick Trust, and the Cornwall Archaeological Unit. English Heritage is also collaborating in the preservation of mining districts [recently supported by a successful bid to Unesco to have those areas declared as a World Heritage Site]. The theme sometimes appear in commercial tourism, such as the 'Poldark Mine' [this is doubly mediated, though, since the Poldark family are literary and televisual creations]. This facility has recently been reshaped to emphasise the experience of the overseas Cornish, [the waves of migration of Cornish miners to America, Australia and South Africa].
This 'diaspora' has the potential to be important new market, especially since Cornish associations have now been organised in a number of overseas countries and seem to be growing. The 'Cornish World' aims at these readers, especially known descendants. [There's a hint that the overseas Cornish may be even more ethnically conscious than those that remain in Cornwall, a phenomenon known with other migrant communities, such as the Welsh in Patagonia].
So far, these varying constructions 'appear to be complementary' (193), with official bodies offering upper-class history, and Cornish bodies representing working-class history. Yet the emphasis on the mining industry also 'carries more overtones of resistance' (193). They are funded by governments if there is a specific market, and the European Union will also fund a project that emphasise cultural difference -- Cornwall gained 'European Objective 1 status' in 1999, 'which is a generous funding programme for the most deprived regions of Europe' (193). [Funding was granted to stimulate the Cornish language, for example -- however, there are three versions of it ]
Celtic difference has also been used as a marketing strategy, much as the Great Western Railway did. In 2000, a strategy document emphasised Cornish difference as the basis of a 'high spend niche market' (194). Yet this difference is still not clarified, and the original romantic primitive is being challenged by 'the "industrial Celt"' (194). Yet even this industrial past is problematic, and is still open to romanticisation.
Certainly, Cornish heritage is complex and 'polyvocal', although this is not usually represented in heritage attractions double - hence the 'phrase "heritage dissonance" to refer to the mismatch between people and heritage (Graham et al 2000)' (194). Cornish attractions are particularly mismatched 'for it is hard to know who identifies and claims that narratives on display and for what reasons' (194). Such dissonance and controversy could increase. Different narratives might co-exist for the present. Attractions that emphasise 'reflexivity, and which have the ability to promote a range of Cornish historical experiences may... achieve the "authenticity" desired by both visitors and cultural activists are' (194). However, conflict may increase as demands for legitimation also increase.
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