Alexandra Peat: "‘Keep Going’: Scotland at the 1938 Empire Exhibition"

Reselitteraturseminariet (RELS)

Alexandra Peat, Senior Lecturer at the Department of English, Uppsala University: "‘Keep Going’: Scotland at the 1938 Empire Exhibition"

When the last official British Empire Exhibition was held in Scotland in 1938 it not only presented ‘exotic’ colonial sights to a curious British public but also put Scotland on display. The exhibition took place as the Scottish tourism industry was being transformed by the emergence of heritage tourism, and as new technologies of mass travel, including the airplane and the motor-car, were opening up remote parts of Scotland to visitors. The exhibition was, thus, not only a tourist activity in and of itself but also an opportunity to promote tourism to Scotland more broadly. ‘Keep going,’ wrote the novelist Neil Gunn in a promotional essay for the exhibition, ‘and then go further.’ I place the exhibition’s view of Scotland alongside two contemporary travel narratives, Louis MacNeice’s I Crossed the Minch and Cicely Hamilton’s Scotland, as Seen by an Englishwoman. These curious, experimental works suggest alternative aesthetic and representational models for Scotland. They seek new routes around and views of Scotland at  the same time as they doubt and deconstruct the very possibility of accessing an ‘authentic’ Scotland. By placing these works in conversation with the empire exhibition, I suggest that all three ultimately  partake in a similar project of questioning how to represent Scotland, a project  which, moreover, elucidates the changing and contradictory ways in which 1930s Scotland saw itself and was seen by others outside its  borders.