Nationalized Nature on Picture Postcards:
Subtexts of Tourism from an Environmental Perspective.
Global Environment 1 (2008): 192–215
Tourism is an important part of many national economies in Europe and
beyond. Tourism imagery is a reflection of national environmental
values and national claims upon nature. Postcards are a good example
for the use of images in environmental history, and an important medium
of tourist discourse. They are designed to sell tourist dreams about
landscapes. In some ways, they are very uniform. They depict blue
skies, green meadows, mountains, snow, whatever is to be sold as
typical to the paying user. This uniformity is paradoxical, as what
tourist destinations are striving to sell is their uniqueness. Upon
close study, differences are revealed within the uniformity. Cards are
full of national symbols and make claims about national natures.
National styles of depicting nature have developed alongside
increasingly targeted destination marketing. At a recent environmental
history conference, a panel asked if nations had a place in
environmental history. This paper argues, as did Ted Steinberg in his
book on the history of the lawn in the U.S.A., that, for some topics,
national boundaries do matter in environmental history.
National styles are part of the socio-cultural legacies of different
countries. Humans play a special role in picture postcards, being
either sold as decorative “natives” to enhance the card’s picturesque
appeal, or depicted as model tourists showing the proper use of the
landscape portrayed, be it eating shrimp, mountaineering, or boating
and fishing. The present paper uses postcards from several European
countries to discuss national natures in comparison. The development of
statements about national natures over time is interesting, as picture
postcards do echo environmental values in different countries. The
paper employs picture postcards to show how the environment was and is
constructed for tourist use and for purposes of national interest.
Postcards transmit environmental values. Since these are also national
values, looking at cards reveals what may be a hidden agenda of
difference within a politically but not culturally unified Europe.
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