Healthy Living in the Alps: The Origins of Winter Tourism in Switzerland, 1860-1914.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Author:||Walton, John K.|
|Publication:||Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529|
|Issue:||Date: Summer, 2010 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 4|
|Topic:||NamedWork: Healthy Living in the Alps: The Origins of Winter Tourism in Switzerland, 1860-1914 (Nonfiction work)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Barton, Susan|
Healthy Living in the Alps: The Origins of Winter Tourism in
Switzerland, 1860-1914. By Susan Barton (Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 2008. 202 pp. [pounds sterling]55.00).
This is a surprising addition to the Manchester University Press 'Studies in Popular Culture' series. It deals with the role of the British upper and middle classes in the development of winter tourism in the Swiss Alps, with some attention to the other nationalities involved on the demand side, and some interesting incidental material on the adaptability of local entrepreneurs to new opportunities, including the ability of blacksmiths to diversify into the manufacture of winter sports equipment. It is hard to see how this falls under any meaningful definition of 'popular culture'. The period covered is longer than the sub-title suggests, beginning around the early nineteenth century and finishing with ragged uncertainty at various points in the 1930s. The core of the book consists of five case-studies of individual resorts, followed by a chapter on tourism and technology transfer in this setting, and a collection of biographies of British visitors to the case-study centres. This is not a general survey of the relationship between tourism as the pursuit of scenery, challenge and 'difference' in Alpine settings, as part of the pursuit of cure or alleviation of tuberculosis and other perceived diseases of cities and industrial pollution, and in association with the development of what came to be known as 'winter sports'. Nor are these relationships worked through in any clear or systematic way. So the actual content of the book does not match its title.
What about the argument of the book taken on its own terms? In certain key respects it is actually quite difficult to follow. No rationale is provided for the choice of case-studies, and there is no comparative treatment of size of settlement or pace of growth. There is no discussion of the peculiarities of the Orisons region, which dominates the case-studies, and only a single mention of its distinctive language, whose existence must have affected the tourist experience. The extensive literature on Alpine economies and migration patterns is barely touched upon. Nor are any maps provided. There is some material, scattered through the text, on the growth of visitor numbers (and of passenger numbers carried by various transport systems), but definitions are never made clear, and the usual problems of this kind of evidence, which is invariably 'soft', are compounded by this endemic vagueness. The brief introductory chapter offers hardly any historical or comparative contextual material on the development of health and pleasure resorts, although the existence of mineral springs before the development of the distinctive local forms of health tourism is acknowledged. There is interesting material on the development of milk-based therapies (which were not confined to the Alps) and 'cowshed cures', and on the rise of therapies based on mountain air and sunshine, but these are not related to the development of medical understandings of climatology, on which there is an extensive literature, or to the relationship between tourism and medicine. A surprising omission is the part played by the British medical pundit C.W. Saleeby in promoting heliotherapy, especially as he visited Leysin, one of the case-study centres, in 1922. The relationship between these developments in 'health tourism' and the rise of 'winter sports' remains unclear, although a lot of anecdotal detail is provided. Even the prosopographical chapter on 'the first winter sportsmen and women' is a collection of individual biographies linked together by an impressionistic commentary which draws attention to interesting but predictable recurrent themes, such as the over-representation of clergymen, the professions and the public schools, and the distinctive gender dimensions of 'winter sports' in this setting. The sub-set of provincial winter sports participants of lower social standing, from the Midland manufacturing town of Leicester, adds an interesting dimension, and the 'colonial' mentality of a British expatriate population with experience of life in the British formal and informal empires, or in other non-British resort settings, is significant but again hardly surprising. There is a recurrent need for greater clarity in the presentation of sources as well as working definitions.
This is a disappointing outcome to an ambitious study which deploys sources in three languages. The author shows awareness of the need to bring out the international nature of these cosmopolitan resorts, but the dominant angle of vision remains British. Further exploration of the themes discussed here would be a worthwhile project, but the present book is more a quarry of resources than a coherent or convincing interpretation.
John K. Walton
University of the Basque Country, Bilbao
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