British Studies Web Pages


Book Review

David McCrone, Angela Morris and Richard Kiely, Scotland - the Brand: The Making of Scottish Heritage, Edinburgh University Press, 1995 (ISBN 0 7486 0615 7)

This review has been written by Małgorzata Zdybiewska, who teaches British Studies at NKJO Radom and is a contributor to the British Studies Web Pages.

Scotland is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Every year more and more Poles go there for holidays. Tourist brochures feed tourists with scenic photographs cluttered with castles, wild landscape vistas, bagpipers wearing tartans, heather and thistle, delicious looking shortbread (don't mention haggis - it certainly does not look good in the photographs!) and expensive looking whisky bottles. Scotland is a dreamland.

As an avid reader of Walter Scott in my childhood, I was also fed a diet of romantic legends and heroic figures. In those days Rob Roy Macgregor and Edward Waverley were indeed real people to me. I travelled, fought and suffered with them. While reading David MCrone's book I discovered that I was a very typical case of such bewitchment or Walter Scott mania. Apparently, there seems to have been millions of similar cases all over the world!

As David McCrone explains in SCOTLAND - THE BRAND: THE MAKING OF SCOTTISH HERITAGE, the whole idea of heritage has its origins in nineteenth-century Scotland and the revolution in the writing of history brought about by Sir Walter Scott, who at an early age was exposed to the oral tradition of the Borders. These early childhood experiences were to provide the inspiration for his novels. In these, Scott created a highly romantic and fictitious picture of the Scottish past.

Doesn't this story ring a bell with us Poles? It was Adam Mickiewicz who, impressed by his childhood memories and folk legends, created the best pieces of Polish romantic poetry. It was also Juliusz Słowacki who reached the highest levels of drama by making magic use of a story of a cruel sister and raspberries. It seems that there is a close affinity between Scotland with its romantic imagery and our Polish national heritage nourished by Romantic poetry and stories of legendary heroism.

Every year tourists coming to Scotland in great numbers expect decent accommodation, good food and transport. But they are attracted, first of all, by historic sites, ancient towns and "tartanry" and "Balmoralty". These are indispensable and essential ingredients of the travel brochure, the poster, the guide and the package deal.

SCOTLAND - THE BRAND: THE MAKING OF SCOTTISH HERITAGE is based on a sociological study. It examines the specific role and character of the major players in Scottish heritage - the National Trust for Scotland, the Scottish Tourist Board and Historic Scotland. Four main themes run through the book - the commodification of heritage; the consumption of heritage; the politics of heritage; and the ideology of heritage. Each of these is unfolded in turn.

However, I found the first three chapters, i.e. "The Rise and the Rise of Heritage", "The Sociology of Heritage" and "Scottish Heritage: Commercialising the Culture" much more interesting than the rest of the book in which the authors flood the reader with all kinds of details.

Moreover, the black and white illustrations are unattractive and of poor quality. They are a far cry from the glossy colourful tourist brochures so easily available from the Scottish Tourist Board. Maybe this is exactly the point the authors are trying to make. The modern Scottish reality has nothing in common with the images sold to the tourists.

The authors pose a number of very important questions: Is Scotland's heritage industry an economic blessing or the curse of negative stereotyping? How important is 'heritage' to the country's identity and politics? How is the national heritage created and by whom? In my opinion these questions are not only relevant to the Scottish experience but also to the Polish one.

In recent months there has been a fierce argument in the Polish media concerning the Hannoverian Fair Expo 2000 and the Polish exhibition there. A lot of questions were asked about an image of Poland that should be presented in Hanover. It seems that we have finally ended up with a kitchy blend of stereotypes worth a close sociological study. A visitor to a Polish exhibition at Hanover will have the opportunity to enter the Polish Pavilion and go through "the Polish experience" ("Tom O'Shanter" experience at Robert Burn's birthplace in Alloway, Scotland is still a vivid memory in my mind!). What does the Polish "experience" comprise of? You will hardly be surprised! A weeping willow (Do you remember that quintessentially Polish Chopin monument?), a virtual recreation of the Wieliczka's salt mine and no doubt plenty of Polish kielbasa and vodka (I sincerely hope, for the benefit of visitors to the Polish exhibition, that the last items are not only a virtual reality!).

Is Poland really like that? None of those grey blocks of flats, tired people's faces in the streets and dilapidated towns with the unemployed spending their time next to beer kiosks. None of those new colourful tower blocks, shiny supermarkets and offices with bright Polish yuppies in business suits with mobile phones at their ears?

I strongly recommend the book to Polish readers because the issues raised by David McCrone and his sociological team are also relevant to Poland. Soon we will have to answer the same question David McCrome asks about Scotland: is the commodification of heritage a curse or a blessing?

The growth of heritage is an international phenomenon that is extremely interesting to teachers and students of cultural studies who have to deal with all kinds of heritage products in ELT textbooks, such as maps, posters, postcards, passages and photographs of different places.

Teachers and students ought to develop cultural studies skills, especially those connected with ethnography. Learning to be a participant-observer in another culture should be one of the primary objectives of British Studies classes. SCOTLAND -THE BRAND: THE MAKING OF SCOTTISH HERITAGE will also help EFL learners to learn to ask the right kind of questions not only about a target culture but our own as well.

Produced in Poland by British Council © 2003. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.