On the Heritage Industry

The heritage industry is big business not only in the UK, but globally (or at least in 'the West'). As a parent I got to see a lot of heritage sites running up and down from Plymouth to Portsmouth, for example -- everything from Plymouth Dome or King Billy's Yard, via Crinkley Bottom and the Fleet Air Arm Museum, to the Crusader Experience, New Forest Experience, and Southsea Castle. I have Australian friends who claim they now navigate their way around the UK using the brown signs pointing to various heritage sites - their own country is becoming riddled with them too, though, like the Eureka Stockade Experience in Ballarat, or the Latrobe Valley Farm just outside Melbourne. 

Most of them feature some sort of 'authentic' artefact to base their work upon - an old building is the classic one. Others are, of course, absolute fakes - Frontierland in Disney World. We can start to understand them in the familiar way - as a combination of big business, often hi-tech strategies, and customer surveys intended to package and add pleasures for the punters. As usual, this can be a 'good' or a 'bad' thing, of course. 

Hewison (1987) has probably written the classic book on this, and, since he became famous, he has also produced lots of nice little articles summarising his main approach (such as the ones in Corner and Harvey 1991, or in Uzzell 1989a). Hewison argues that heritage sites offer a dubious version of the past which is 'ideological'. In his book, he suggests that it is often sentimental, uncritical, and patronising, for example, with depictions of life in pastoral 'Merrie England' or in the 'good old days' (see the reconstructed Victorian town in Flambards (a theme park in Helston, Cornwall) for a lovely example - oh granny, how I miss you. Minorities and rebels, of course, are absent, denied a voice or sentimentalised, and there is little understanding of the collective (class) struggles which produced the past. The Eureka Stockade Experience in Ballarat celebrates a period of industrial upheaval in the Australian gold-mining industry - but ends in a cheery, matey kind of reinforcement of Australian identity as they salute their Irish forebears (actually they also villified mine at the same time who were, at one stage, respectable English immigrants). 

The past is gentrified and domesticated, 'antiqued' or made the object of nostalgia. Thus it becomes safe, a 'sedative', no longer a source of critical contrast to the present or of understanding, no longer able to shock us. Take the 'First World War Experience' in the Imperial War Museum, or the 'Blitz Experience' in Flambards, for example - the threats and terrors are mere effects, and no-one asks whether the real thing was ever worth it, or whether the people who endured the real thing would be happy with what we have now. I was raised myself during the period of austerity and rationing after World War 2, and I often wondered what luxurious foods would be available in the future: I didn't really bargain on the drive-thru' McDonalds. 

'What really happened' is now strictly for 'intellectuals' (equals parasites, whingers and troublemakers). The heritage industry is about nostalgia and selling, of course, and all nasty thoughts of death or sacrifice have to be restrained. There are no theories or narratives, but a mere 'collage' of impressions, joined together because they sell rather than because they make any sense - what do Beatrix Potter books, hand-made candles, watercolours of the landscape, camomile tea, sensible travel rugs, maps, and little wooden acorns have in common (answer: you find them all in a National Trust shop. Any National Trust shop. All National Trust shops). 

The present has just evolved out of the past (and the two are often compressed together anyway - coal or tin mines close and, only a few months later, re-open as a 'mine experience'). Somehow, the past and the present join in an image of 'the nation'. 'England' is a land of country houses and 'Brideshead Revisited', says Hewison. Yes, there was a (recent) past, but we do not have to worry about it any more - forward with 'the new…' 

At times, Hewison's analysis touches on familiar bits of social theory - he likes pointing out that television representations merge with heritage representations to become 'more real than reality', and he uses terms like 'collage' or 'pastiche', or 'nostalgia' to describe the representations he loathes. This sounds like a postmodern approach, of course - but Hewison wants to reject those in favour of a more marxist twist. He wants definitely to criticise these tendencies as a distortion of the real, and sees a basic capitalist system as prompting the combinations of commerce and ideology (a discredited 'foundational' approach for postmodernism). He chooses to argue this via the work of Jameson, a marxist theorist who claims to be able to explain everything the postmodernists describe in terms of an account of 'late capitalism' (which cheered up marxists everywhere). The later articles tackle this in more detail, and you might to look at one to check out the 'three models'. I hope you can debate the issue a bit for yourselves by now? 

Corner and Harvey (1991) pursue a similar line, in terms with which we are already familiar - they use the old gramscian line on Thatcherism and the New Right which we know and love from the 'New Times' project (click link). Briefly, the heritage industry is an (ideological) response to a crisis in culture induced by capitalist modernisation and globalisation - the socialist tradition of the past is repressed, and a reinterpretation of the past is offered instead which glorifies 'the ideals of eighteenth century free-market capitalism' (p. 14). Heavy positive implications are to be drawn for the present, of course. As the book title suggests, both 'heritage' and 'enterprise' are reinterpreted in this way - dead handy for our course, really. 

You must take your pick of the actual chapters as examples. I zeroed in on Schwartz's account of the East End of London (I'll be honest -I was hoping it would be crap, and then I could get a bit of revenge for a throwaway dismissal of my 1992 book Schwartz made once - see how petty you can get?). It's rather good (alas), contrasting the old docklands area with the strange amalgam of 'high-tech…and retro-chic of roots and folklore' (the 'Disneyland dimension' p. 87) that is the Isle of Dogs today (or, rather, in 1990). Of course, Schwartz's history of the East End is probably a bit suspicious - it seems to have an ideal, working class, authentic, properly resisting community - but racism is also mentioned. Schwartz is also good on the economics of the housing and property boom that hit the Isle of Dogs and (rare this) seems to have successfully predicted the collapse of the company that built Canary Wharf. 

Have you seen Canary Wharf? Have a look at it sometime, perhaps after a stroll down the East India Dock Road, or during a ride on the Docklands Light Railway. The gross tower, with its flashing light on top, looms over the whole surrounding landscape - an outer ring of tatty housing and streets for the poor of Tower Hamlets, then, as you get closer, a zone of devastation of demolished houses and streets and building sites, with weird features like having Stock Exchange prices on a large roadside electronic display as you pick your way through the roadworks - just what you need to know if you're unemployed or if you've just arrived from Somalia as a refugee. The whole thing looks like an alien civilisation has colonised a bit of London - which is what has happened I suppose - and it is determined to stay encamped round its large concrete spaceship, behind a ring of outer defences of cleared land (a military free-fire zone it seemed to me,last time I was there) and security gates

I also liked: 

  • McNeil on the old and new worlds of Information Technology, and all the utopian hopes that a technological solution might be found for Britain's economic crisis in 'sunrise industries' or the nice-sounding 'home-working'. 
  • Worpole's stuff on the leisure boom, including discussions of shopping malls and theme parks - e.g the Metro Centre as the model of a future and orderly society, including an evening curfew and private security, or the Natural History Museum and how it changed (after the management visited Disney World). 
  • Hewison's three models appear here too (pp 173 and onwards), grafted on to a little piece on the growth of the new independent (commercial) musuems (the production of the past as well as the consumption of it) - he is also a little caustic on the growth of McJobs in tourism, and on the make-over of the Victoria and Albert Musuem (with redundancies for the old intellectuals and scholars) as part of a 'gentrification project', merging commerce and culture. 
  • Wollen on 'heritage films', a nice piece on ideological representations of 'the nation' in Brideshead…, Chariots of Fire and Raj movies.
Check out the bits on heritage (and visitor interpretation) on my list of recent articles on leisure. Try my own account of a visit to the Dome as well?

Concluding thoughts

These critics obviously have a definite perspective to pursue, often a gramscian one. They do assume that their own methods for analysing the past are correct and valid - but many ('postmodern') critics would want to doubt that these marxist concepts will deliver some 'real' history without some tweaking and selectivity. The approach also assumes that most visitors will be gullible and swayed by this ideological account of the past (and we might want to doubt that, knowing what we know about 'active' consumes or viewers or players. Certainly the Australians I accompanied round the Eureka Stockade Experience had a great time taking the piss out of themselves and the display -- making bird calls during the dramatic pauses, barracking the real actors in period dress. Finally, we are not really clear about what a suitable depiction of the past would look like - it should be critical, emphasise struggle, expose the tensions and all that, and offer a more 'scholarly' and academic history - but what would that actually look like? A video of Hewison showing us round Ironbridge (an industrial museum in Shropshire)? Schwartz doing guided tours of the Isle of Dogs? An Open University radio debate between opposed historians? Who would pay good money to get those? 

It's the old debate really, which we find in political films - you can have wince-making sentimental and ideological films about, say, the Vietnam War, which are lousy history but popular cinema, or you can have serious marxist accounts of the Vietnam War which are nice and critical, shocking or thought-provoking, but which are watched only by a few of the already converted. What no-one has been able to do yet is produce histories which are BOTH critical AND popular. 


And now for something completely different…Let's turn the debate the other way up and get all practical and managerial for a change. First, let us not generalise too much. Frontierland might be naff, but what's wrong with adding values and cultures to historical sites, telling popular and involving stories about those sites?. As I said above - what else could we do anyway? Companies which run heritage sites may not be offering proper academic history - but why should they? The critics we reviewed above seem to want to turn everything into a university (which heaven forbid). To get really spiteful and postmodernist and reflexive about this for a moment - why should we just accept that critical, academic, marxist history is 'better' in some sense? Better for whom? Isn't it just as nostalgic and just as one-sided? To borrow and invert Fowler's critique (in Uzzell 1989a), marxist historians also face the dangers of an overemotional involvement in the exciting bits of the past, and can run into the 'self-delusion' that they can empathise with past generations of gallant 'strugglers' and working class heroes. 

And why should we just take, undiscussed, the claim that university academics or writers are the bearers of objective or 'more real', 'pure' critique, unsullied somehow by the taint of popularity or commerce - (UK) universities and publishing houses are obliged to generate a surplus themselves, they are up to the hocks in commerce, and are trying to get even cosier with big business. Why doesn't Hewison get critical about the Coca-Cola Chair at Edinburgh, or the Rupert Murdoch Chair at Oxford? Universities are not above a little sentimental distortion of the past or the present themselves, of course, as a quick glance at any promotional material will show. Close readers of my own wonderful work will have noticed that I try to turn the tables in this way on critics of Disney too, and, yes, I most certainly would accept a Chair funded by the Disney Company, to be the first Mickey Mouse Professor of Cultural Studies. 

OK we're in the right mood now, perhaps, for this next section. On a more sober note try Rumble's defence of English Heritage's (EH) activities in Uzzell (1989a). English Heritage has to conserve its old buildings, attract visitors and cater for all sorts of interests in the past. They do so in competition with all sorts of really vulgar heritage sites (so Hewison and the others should not tar them all with the same brush). By and large, they do their best, says Rumble (who was an EH employee), offering only a 'minimal orientation' for those visitors that want one, and offering the same sort of service as any educator - trying to be as objective as possible while remembering the sensitivities of visitors (And now - the Cholera Epidemic of 1888 Experience!!), and trying to get the level of popularity and complexity right. EH are more than willing to listen to research findings on how to increase their educational impact. 

Uzzell's own piece is in the same vein, pointing to real difficulties in depicting the 'reality' of historical suffering (a point taken up in an article entitled 'Making Sense of Misery' in Museum Journal, January 1999). The more vulgar heritage sites do not handle this well, of course, but it is difficult to address - especially as the visitors themselves often shrink away from controversy, and domesticate the suffering of the past (why shouldn't they - they're on holiday). Are we seriously proposing a kind of kidnap strategy - lure in the punters with promises of Mickey Mouse, then lock the doors and make them watch harrowing footage of illness and death (and then make them discuss it!!)? Upitis uses a more familiar example, perhaps, in her account of organising visits to Australian Aboriginal sites - how should we balance the interpretive needs of visitors and local people? 

So - OK - they are not all manipulative bastards trying to rip off the past and make a quick buck. Some heritage folk seem quite responsible, and some might even have had a university education themselves! So what do they actually do? 

They add values of course. They do 'visitor interpretation' to add to the pleasure of the paying customer, and, perhaps, quietly to educate them a bit, or at least to wean them away from more vulgar attractions and get them genuinely interested in the past. People like Parkin ( in Uzzell 1989b) give helpful advice to people like Portsmouth Corporation on landscaping the approach to the historic ships displays, so that visitors are not distracted by a scruffy car park or a walk past some notorious Portsmouth pubs (try The Ship Leopard!) before they get to the morally uplifting bits. Following Disney's lead (of course), advice can be given on a whole town plan, a 'tourism town appraisal' (p. 110), covering everything from signposting to the training of staff. 

They design visitor material too, of course, using some familiar techniques in media and in advertising. One of my own early studies of such material (enclosed below) will serve as an example. 

Other writers offer proper research on the visitor ('applied' academic research one might call it), participant/observing them and their responses (Rick), offering surveys or even educational tests (Shettel), monitoring staff for unwelcoming non-verbals like 'shuffling feet' (Rick again, p. 126), eavesdropping on visitors to try to gauge how they talk about exhibits ( McManus), taking time-lapse photographs to discover how visitors might damage sites (Stoep). Silverstone says that much can be gained by analysing work on the mass media too, including ethnographic studies of the audience, and narrative techniques of the display material (organised under categories like 'thematics', 'poetics' and 'rhetoric'). 


We know how this sort of interpretative work can build up the value of the experience for the visitor and for the company. This can add to the enjoyment of the visit, of course. Urry's work (1990) on the 'tourist gaze' raised lots of these sorts of possibilities with package tourism, of course - but he also developed the downside of the approach. I was struck by the megalomania of some of the work, the desire to control and manage, to bring everything under the discipline of the discourse or the gaze. Take the amazing and paranoid attention to detail like the non-verbal footwork of staff - don't staff have the right not to be judged in these prejudiced ways by visitors? What if visitors don't like black people or women - do we bar them? Or what about the offer to restructure a whole town in order to create a nice impression for the visitors to some old ships! I was tempted to ask - why stop at the town boundaries? Let's landscape the whole of southern England while we' re at it! Don't residents have rights too? 

Giving tests to visitors, or peeping at them (observing them unobtrusively) and listening to their conversations is surely out of order? There seem to be few ethical worries or doubts, and a quite simple unquestioning subservience to the managers of enterprises. This is chronically likely, of course, once academic research gets out of the academy where it would be expected to be criticised and questioned: in commercial settings there are few interests served by being critical. And all this under the respectable guise of merely helping or educating visitors - the profits it delivers to bosses, or the exploitation it involves for workers is hardly mentioned. 

I doubt if the techniques are all that powerful anyway. We know there are many problems with the validity of techniques like ethnographic observation and surveys, for example. The 'active audience' is omitted here too, except as a problem, perhaps, wandering off the path to look at something and thus 'damaging the site'. I suspect visitors' meanings in visits like this are as elusive as they are anywhere else - could we tell the difference between 'real' and 'feigned' interest in an exhibit, for example, or decide if two parents were getting keen on the display material out of 'genuine' interest or from a desire to pose as 'proper parents'? Anyone would think we knew how to 'educate' people, but I doubt if we do - our audiences might stay put and attend politely, but no-one knows what they are thinking. 

'Techniques', whether they be research techniques or narrative techniques, are sometimes used as magic spells to overcome the real uncertainties I have outlined. People think in comforting terms like 'Use a respectable technique and you must come up with something useful', or 'If we spend money on getting some proper research done, we'll be seen to be trying to really manage properly'. Of course , the visitor interpretation industry (a major growth area in tourism, Uzzell 1989a tells us) is also keen to build business for itself by adding the value of academic training. 

And finally… some modest work of my own, dating from the late 1980s in fact, examining some production techniques on a local case-study (Buckland Abbey, a large C16th country house near Plymouth). The Abbey is owned by the National Trust who wanted to restore it. In turn, they had to make it more attractive to paying visitors 

This is a very old study by now (about 15 years old), and it was part of a bigger exercise involving a series of lectures and a pack of materials. These have now disappeared. However, I hope you will be able to get the gist of what I am attempting. 

Buckland Abbey


This session starts with an apology: case studies are difficult to manage, and there is no ONE approach. I have chosen a particular way through this material, but there are other ways to tackle it. The basic theme is to discuss the cultural work going on at Buckland Abbey, especially the ways of telling stories about it - via representations and narratives. 

Choosing representations involves the careful selections of images to indicate particular aspects of the Abbey that you want to emphasise -- which views, which people, which objects are going to be selected to illustrate the essential qualities you want to depict. They need not be 'realist' images,of course, but might develop as  metaphors for things like 'patriotism', 'enterprise',or just 'value' or 'quality'.

Developing narratives involves selecting aspects of the history of the Abbey, ignoring others, and joining the selected ones into a cultural work, a story, a structured experience for the visitor. The idea, of course, is to make the Abbey popular, able to appeal to a large number of visitors. We have heard of some of the constraints on this cultural work too, though - the need to keep the 'character' of the Abbey, to keep it 'natural' or 'unspoiled', to offer a narrative, or a strategy for one, that will be acceptable to museum professionals and various other funding and legislative bodies like West Devon County Council (WDCC), Plymouth Museums, the National.Trust and so on. 

I want to abstract from the case study itself by making some general remarks about how representations and narratives actually work. This is a topic of considerable theoretical interest in a variety of disciplines. As my examples,  I am going to choose publicity material for the Abbey itself, and , briefly, offer some examples in aadvertising  too.  Judith Williamson's book (Williamson 1978) represents the best single text on advertising, but it is a little 'difficult'. 

(Re)Presenting the Abbey

There is work involved in presenting the objects, the building itself and its contents, in a series of explanations, presentations, and stories. Popular aspects have to be selected for emphasis in order to make the objects appeal to a diverse and largely unknown audience. A number of documents are available to show us how this can be done -- such as the guide books, and the report by the consultants Robin Wade et al. (alas now unavailable) 

The materials seem to have in common the view that particular aspects are worth emphasising - the Cistercian/Mediaeval period, the Tudor conversion, Sir Francis Drake's occupancy, running the Estate. The guide books focus especially on Drake, who is clearly a useful figure for someone to select to do popular historical narrative work with, so to speak. He is already a popular figure, well-known, and with certain desirable characteristics already symbolised in his person. Less desirable characteristics can always be minimised. 

One way to proceed, in fact, might be to interview people to see what Drake actually does mean to them, what associations come to mind when his name is mentioned. Try this for yourself at this point, perhaps... 

Exercise # 1 Write down a list of characteristics that would describe Francis Drake. If I mentioned the words 'Francis Drake' to you, what would be the first things that came into your head? Write them down... 

Now let us compare your answers on Drake with the associations developed in the guide books. (I have put the quotes from the guidebooks in italic - my comments are in normal type) 

The Guide Books

'...his name is a national symbol of England'. '...[his]...is a description which would fit many a Westcountryman of our time..'. So there are national and local associations here. The national associations are developed using the story or 'legend' of Drake's drum: 'One of the nation's most famous heirlooms...Some thought they heard its throbbing on the quiet Devon sea in 1914...It's reverberating sound echoes the spirit of the nation'. The drum is one of the artefacts displayed prominently at the Abbey, of course, although there is a need to weasel a bit about whether any one of the drums is the drum (which is unlikely). 

Then there is the association with the monarchy, once another powerful and popular national symbol. The guide books tell the story of Drake being knighted by Elizabeth I on his return - and... '...his sword was also used by Queen Elizabeth II when conferring a knighthood on Sir Francis Chichester'. And associations with the Royal Navy - 'His cup and sword are kept in the wardroom of HMS Drake'

There are local associations here, of course, for Plymouth, sustained in remarks like how Drake landed at Drake's Island, or how... '...the drum [again!] beat a couple of bars at the wedding march.. [at St. Budeaux]'. And of course, the references to bowls on Plymouth Hoe, how Drake brought the water supply to Plymouth, and so on. 

There are current associations, designed to link Drake with current beliefs, feelings, and contemporary events. Some of the associations above do that, of course. The Wade et al. Report chooses to refer to Drake's family life , and 'personifies ' the story in other ways - see below. The character of Drake is tailored to fit modern tastes too - '...a great individualist...resolute in character...daring and resolution...a foremost sailor...meteoric career...amazing...rich...famous'. 

Finally, it is interesting to note that the symbolic power of Drake has been recognised by the advertising industry - a new Trust calling itself 'The New Scottish Life Drake Trust' [sic!] headed its advertising with a picture of Drake and the caption 'He made his fortune by seizing opportunities. So can you.'


Of course, a cynic might add that one of the things 'seized' by Drake en route to his fortune was slaves - there is an acknowledgement of Drake's career as a slaver - see if you can find it in the Abbey displays, and note how it is contexted. 

This is deliberate cultural work, I would suggest, stitching together a number of episodes into a story, using these episodes to develop the character of the hero, and then using that hero as a symbol of all kinds of local national and current sentiment and 'spirit'. The person of Drake is used skilfully to transfer all that knowledge, popularity, interest, emotion and pride on to the house itself. Narratives make these links and transfers in popular ways - although I am not suggesting that the authors of the narratives are always deliberate in their use of symbols, or fully conscious of their use and effects. Nor do narratives always work in the ways in which they are intended. 

Exercise #3 

To what extent might visitors be able to offer alternative readings of these texts? What cultural resources might be used? Can you think of any alternatives that popped into your heads as you followed the tour? 

The Wade et al. Report

The cultural work of presenting a narrative is known at one level, but often misrecognised at another, even by experts. The Report criticises the earlier ways of presenting the Abbey, for example in terms like these: '...the relation between the buildings remains unexplained...Displays are inconsequential and without meaningful relation'. Yet, of course, these old relations and display techniques are not accidental or haphazard - they simply reflect the earlier conventions in telling the story. Such conventions are not entirely without meaning - they just do not conform to new, modern, acceptable ways of establishing meaning (including ways acceptable to modern museum professionals, perhaps). 

Similar misrecognitions arise with the famous paired concepts 'cultural/natural'. It is tempting for visitors to see the present state of the buildings and their environment as 'natural', uncultured, not the result of any human effort. Yet this is a myth: the modern landscape seems 'natural' only because visitors do not immediately see the tremendous labour, and the massive social, historical and economic forces that have made it that way. I want to argue here for the view that all meanings are cultural, and that one particular set of meanings tend to get identified with the high-status term 'natural', which in advertising often means 'wholesome', 'pure', 'suitable for children', or, sometimes 'dangerously sexy', or 'inevitable' - and a host of other things (see Williamson 1978). 

Revealing paradoxes arise in the Report on this matter: the authors want to make the Abbey popular and enjoyable and understandable '...by making all routes naturally connect buildings, rooms and concepts in as self-explanatory and as dramatic a way as possible' [my emphasis]. Yet, as the Report shows, this is a far from natural process - the most detailed attention is paid to arranging the routes and displays, down to the level of careful choice of lighting, the finish on pathways, use of colour and so on. What we have here is an interesting insight into cultural work - it uses the most clever and modern techniques to tell stories, but the convention is to make all this work invisible, to make it appear as if the objects and artefacts are just there, 'naturally', 'realistically'. 

Why put in all this work and then encourage the public to misrecognise it? Because people feel more involved if they can forget the work of presentation and story-telling - the less obtrusive the author, the more personal can be the involvement. This is a convention and effect recognised these days, perhaps (I don't know, and I'd like to interview some) by museum professionals explicitly. They seem deliberately to be developing a non-intrusive style for displays, encouraging the apparent absence of any mediations by academics (such as their interests, their concepts, their explanations). Yet the techniques have been practised far longer by writers, painters, and film-makers. 

This point can only be illustrated briefly here. If you read the Report, you will see at least three famous narrative devices in use: 

  1. Personification. Historical events are complex and difficult for the non-professional to grasp. Events have to be broken into manageable pieces, and, commonly, personified. A central character takes the burden of narration as s/he lives through the history in question. We have already mentioned Drake and the Drake family, of course. The Wade Report mentions 'four lives' in fact, each as a 'splendid peg on which to hang the graphic narrative'...'we use the people who occupied the building to introduce each period of adaptation'. Personifying history like this helps visitors 'identify' with the story (although some professional historians have serious objections to the technique) - visitors can recognise at least the personal levels of the characteristics of each period, and project their own dilemmas into the story - e.g. by 'sympathising' with the characters. Of course, sometimes this produces an illusion, that we can read the past using our present ideas. Personification is common in other areas of popular culture - like the use of 'stars' in football or TV, or the way events are personified in the characters in soap operas or historical dramas, or the way in which characters and their 'sensibilities' dominate in novels.
  2. Such sympathetic involvements are to be actively encouraged - by linking the dissolution of the monasteries with the 'demise of a steel town', or by emphasising modern virtues and exploits: '...displays [of Grenville and Drake]...can be brightly lit...redolent of the new ideas that were flooding in through these masters of adventure...their exploits were akin to modern-day spacetravel...' There is probably a wide range of less active/unconscious meanings and links of the kind we have discussed already in the use of symbols. 
  3. 'Naturalisation' and 'objectification' have been mentioned already. Again it is an old technique to project the narrative on to a natural object or set of events to let it/them carry the story, so to speak - the story focuses on the house itself as a thread to join events and people (try 'Brideshead Revisited', the 'Forsyte Saga', 'Coronation Street', or the metaphor of the journey down a road or river in scores of Hollywood epics). 
What lies behind the cultural work involved in telling stories like this, using these techniques acquired at some length by practice, experience, and, these days, academic courses in the particular field in question? There are clearly a number of motives involved in this particular case in Buckland Abbey: 
  1. A genuinely artistic/aesthetic impulse to depict, explain, convey meaning using a number of media to tell stories, for the aesthetic pleasure of the artist and the audience. There are similar impulses in academic life too, where (believe it or not) there are pleasures to be gained from constructing an argument, making a discovery, communicating a chain of reasoning, letting listeners 'discover' one's views and conclusions 'for themselves'. Museum professionals, and consultants doubtless derive genuine enjoyment from these activities. 
  2. A definite commercial motive exists too, articulated in interesting ways with the ones above. The point of the exercise after all is to connect unpopular and popular elements in order to attract people to the Abbey. The best developed area of modern life to examine for examples here is, of course, the advertising industry. 

Exercise # 5 

In the lecture, I demonstrated some of the techniques used in advertising to make connections between things in order to popularise a product. This is necessarily very brief, but you can try this for yourselves, using the ad. for 'Superkings' (a brand of cigarettes) in the file (not any more - sorry - try your own example, or one in Williamson 1978). How does this ad. actually work? How might we decode it? What are the qualities that the advertisers want us to see in the product (the ciggies), and how do they suggest the existence of these qualities? Try for yourselves. My answers follow below... 

Examine the advertisement and look at what else is in the picture, as well as the chosen product. What qualities do these other things possess? How might they be transferred on to the product? 

For me, the qualities in question with the objects accompanying 'Superkings' are high status ones - high value, pricelessness, timeless quality, pedigree, tradition, discovery, mystery. These qualities are actually present first, and indisputably, in the precious (ancient Egyptian) statue on the left of the picture (or, rather, in the viewer's popular knowledge about Egyptian statuary). The statue is then linked visually to the cigarette packet on the right - they are the same colour, both have stripes (the gold and black stripes appear in the background too). This association is fragile and ludicrous, and does not stand up to any prolonged thought or analysis - but then it doesn't have to!. Any association, however flimsy, will do. 

Incidentally, cigarette ads. are often very interesting visually for a number of reasons - one is that they have to detract from the appalling message written underneath! Thus the health warning is marked off from the ad., the ad. is in colour, the message in black and white, and so on. The ad. in this case is put sideways on the page: it is still possible to get the visual message and read the brand name - but not so easy to see the health warning. 

The whole thing borrows heavily from an artistic movement called surrealism, too (again, this sort of borrowing is common in advertising). There 's a lovely irony here in that surrealism began as an artistic movement highly critical of modern capitalist society - yet here it is, some 50-60 years later, commemorated in cigarette ads. (and booze, Kit-Kat, and a host of others). Again, it's startling and interesting visually, no? 


Here's an open-ended question for you to end - would surrealist techniques be inappropriate for advertising Buckland Abbey? In my view, museum professionals (and academics) have a lot to learn from seeing how advertising uses visual materials and techniques, which are often themselves borrowed from artistic or literary works. Advertising for me shows how important it is to understand how language and visual images actually work - how it is possible to abstract qualities from one object and transfer them to another, to establish meanings and associations, to cope with unpopular messages. It doesn't always work, of course - but it works quite a lot compared to other more amateur techniques. Advertising shows the practical importance and relevance of the difficult theory I referred to in the beginning 

Of course, the original critics would go crazy at this suggestion that their great insights, and their careful attempts to develop critical practice would be used mostly by an advertising industry - I have discussed this further elsewhere for film (click link)

Finally, it is sometimes useful to do some comparative work,and,of course, heritage is a global matter these days. I found a nice essay on heritage in Taiwan, or trace it back and find some alternatives and additions on the S.Zupko site. There is now also a nice guest essay written by Jackie Pringle in the guests page section

References and Further Reading

Bennett T (1998) Culture: a reformer's science, Sage: London(ch.6) 

Corner J & Harvey S (eds) (1991) Enterprise and Heritage: crosscurrents of national culture, Routledge: London 

Hewison R (1987) The Heritage Industry: Britain in a climate of decline, Methuen: London 

Laws E (1998) 'Conceptualising visitor satisfaction management in heritage settings: an exploratory blueprinting analysis of Leeds castle, Kent' in Tourism Management 19, 6: 545-554 1998 

Light D (1995) 'Visitors' Use of interpretive media at heritage sites' in Leisure Studies 14:132-49 

Prentice R Tourism and Heritage Attractions (esp Conc) 

Shackley M (ed) (1998) Visitor Management: case studies from world heritage sites, Butterworth-Heinemann: Oxford 

Swarbrooke J (1995) The Development and Management of Visitor Attractions (esp Part 4), Butterworth-Heinemann: Oxford 

Urry J (1990) The Tourist Gaze: leisure and travel in contemporary societies, Sage: London 

Uzzel D (ed) (1989a) Heritage Interpretations: the natural and built environment (volume 1) (especially Intro and chs.3,4,6 and 16), Belhaven Press: London 

Uzzel D (ed) (1989b) Heritage Interpretations: the visitor experience (volume 2) (especially Intro and chs 16, 17), Belhaven Press: London 


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