History, ethnography, and the nation: the films of Scotland documentaries

Butt, Richard (1997). History, ethnography, and the nation: the films of Scotland documentaries. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e10d


The Films of Scotland Committee (1938 and 1954-82) produced one hundred and sixty eight documentaries on Scotland and Scottish life; the thesis is an archaeology of those documentaries. The thesis breaks from a film theory discourse that has marginalised documentary to argue that the genre should be understood as a cultural technology, an exhibitionary apparatus that draws on a variety of discursive formations in its production of knowledge. Similarly, the thesis argues that the representation of Scotland should not be understood as an aesthetic failure to represent the reality of life in Scotland, but as a distinct discursive practice that emerged at a specific historical period, a practice regulated by the rules of formation of the discourses within which it operates.

The thesis outlines the history of Scottish film culture before 1938, and examines the formation of the Committee by the Scottish Office, arguing that this needs to be understood in relation to the history of public cultural policy in Britain since the mid nineteenth century. It examines the Committee's commitment to 'the national interest, and its relation to the mechanics and legitimation of state authority. A discursive analysis of The Face of Scotland (1938) begins to identify the discursive regimes on which Films of Scotland documentaries draw in their production of knowledge. The thesis argues that this film occupies a space of representation opened up by the discursive formations of ethnography and history, and a discourse of nationhood, and traces the formation of this space by looking at the earlier surfaces of emergence of these discourses. It also begins to suggest the ways in which these discourses engage with the construction of cultural and national identities.

Arguing that the figure of the tour is central to the Films of Scotland documentaries, th e thesis traces the emergence of the tour as a cultural technology in Scotland from the eighteenth century travel writing of Martin Martin and Boswell and Johnson, to the apparatuses of tourism established by Thomas Cook. The last part of the thesis focuses on the travelogue as a sub-genre of documentary, mapping out both the technologies of vision on which it draws, and its generic 'regime of verisimilitude', structured, it is argued, by an oscillation between the discourses of history and ethnography. Finally the thesis argues that what remains hegemonic in Scottish culture are not particular images and narratives, but the very concept of national culture itself, and the nature, rather than the content, of national identity.

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