- Landscape and Identity: Geographies of Nation and Class in England
This publication might be termed two books in one. The first book is signaled by the book’s title and it, in turn, enframes the second book. The first book basically presents the author’s gloss on the burgeoning multiplicity of publications on landscape and national identity that have been generated in the course of the past several decades. The identity of the second book, on the other hand, is presented more clearly in the text on the back cover of the book than in the title on the front. This second book, which fills roughly the last two thirds of the space between the covers, is about the history and present situation of the “walking” movement in England, and the corresponding struggle for access to the English countryside.
The first of this publication’s “two books” fall under the heading of “Part I: Representational.” This is a thorough and valuable review of much of the recent literature on landscape. The author uses this literature to argue for a progression, beginning in the mid-18th, from “landscape as theater of power” to “landscape as theatrical entertainment” for the elite, to “landscape as panorama.” The panorama grew out of a merging of landscape painting and [End Page 777] theater scenery in the late 18th century that resulted in the mass popularity of traveling shows in which the magical illusion of vast, largely un-peopled, scenic views became the object of interest. In this way the stage literally upstaged the traditional role of the theater as the setting upon which actors present a play. Now the spectator was placed in the position of the actor as the person experiencing the sublime wonders of the scenic spot represented on the stage. The panorama provided a door through which the masses regained access to the aesthetic wonders of the landscape, conceived as scenery, which had been appropriated by the English elite, through the privatization of enclosure and as cultural capital through education.
The next two parts of this publication encompass what I have termed “book two.” Part II has the heading “Political,” and it is concerned with the history of the politics of access in England beginning in the early 19th century. This part has two primary foci: the Lake District, which was the symbolic and concrete site of discourse concerning aesthetics and national identity, and the Peak District, in the industrial heartland of England, which was the site of discourse and activity concerning class and nation. The access of the working class to the land was a concrete way of manifesting access to nationhood. Part III is termed “Ethnographic,” and it represents a dramatic shift from the perspective of an historic overview to that of the anthropologist doing participant observation, aching legs and all, striding over hill and dale amongst contemporary English walkers.
It is a pity that the second of the “two books” within the covers of this publication is so poorly signaled by the title—why couldn’t it have been called: Landscape, Walking and Identity? The second is the most original and provocative of the “two books”. The historical presentation of the walking and access movement is valuable because it is based largely on sources that are not well known and which are, in themselves, difficult to access. In the ethnographic part, furthermore, the author really breaks new ground with her primary research based on questionnaires, interviews and participant observation walking with different organized English hiking tours. It is in this section that this study, itself, really starts to move.
It is first when one starts to trudge, with the author, up muddy paths and down slippery shale slopes, that one begins to sense a certain disjunction between the “two books.” The first book does indeed establish a reasonable frame within which to understand the second. But the problem is that the content of the second book continually saunters through and beyond the boundary of the frame...