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John Towner
Newcastle Upon Tyne Polytechnic, UK
Geoffrey Wall
University of Waterloo, Canada

Abstract: This paper examines the contribution of history to the under-

standing of tourism. The historical perspective is described and a chrono-
logical survey of historical tourism research is presented, with emphasis
on the ancient and medieval worlds, the Grand Tour era, and spas and
seaside resorts. Developments in British leisure history are examined and
European, particularly British, research emphases are compared and con-
trasted with those of North America. Tourism cycles are also discussed
briefly. It is concluded that much European research has been concerned
with resorts, whereas North American researchers have devoted more
attention to tourism in park and wilderness settings. Keywords: history,
spas, seaside resorts, the Grand Tour, parks, leisure history.
Resume: Histoire et tourisme. Le present article examine la contribution
de l’histoire 21 la comprehension du tourisme. On decrit la perspective
historique, puis on passe en revue chronologique les grandes lignes de la
recherche historique sur le tourisme, en mettant en valeur les temps
anciens, le monde medieval, l’ipoque du tour d’Europe et la mode des
stations thermales et baineaires. On examine des developpements dam
l’histoire des loisirs en Grande Bretagne, puis on fait une comparaison
entre les recherches europtennes, ou surtout britanniques, et les re-
cherches en Amerique du Nord. On discute brievement des cycles de
tourisme. On tire la conclusion que les recherches europeennes ont dis-
cute surtout des stations touristiques pendant que les chercheurs de l’A-
merique du Nord ont p&5 plus d’attention aux cadres des parts et des
regions sauvages. Mots-cl&: histoire, stations thermales. stations bal-
ne’aires, tour d’Europe, parts, histoire des loisirs.

The purpose of this paper is to outline the contribution that the
discipline of history can bring to an understanding of tourism. After
summarizing the distinctive features of the historical approach, the
paper then examines some of the principal historical studies of tourism
to date. A chronology of some of the main works in the field is present-
ed, largely from a British perspective, and this is followed by an exami-
nation of a number of themes that have developed more recently. The

John Towner (Department of Environment, Lipman Building, Newcastle Upon

Tyne Polytechnic, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 8ST, UK) is an historian whose research
interests are in the history of tourism, particularly the Grand Tour. Geoffrey Wall is a
geographer and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research, Faculty of Envi-
ronmental Studies, University of Waterloo. His interests are in the evolution of recrea-
tional land use and the impacts of tourism.

emerging field of leisure history in Britain is discussed, as this exempli-

fies one aspect of history’s contribution to tourism studies. An outline is
then provided of research which has been undertaken on the history of
tourism in North America, including comparative comments concern-
ing the status of research on the two sides of the Atlantic. Following a
brief discussion of recent research on the evolution of tourism, much of
which has been undertaken by non-historians, the paper concludes
with a discussion of future prospects for the field of tourism history.

Perspective of History

The philosophy and methodology of history, as in many other disci-

plines, have been the subject of much debate. What follows, therefore,
is a summary of some of the principal concerns of the historical ap-
proach and one which does not pretend to be comprehensive.
History is concerned with the dimension of time and attempts to
understand social processes and institutions within this context. For
Barraclough (1979) history’s emphasis on time provides “the depth
which comes from studying society not as a static but as a dynamic
constellation of forces manifesting itself in continuous and constant
change.” This view is reinforced by Elton’s (1969) attempt to outline the
essential focus of history. For him, history deals with three main ele-
ments: events, change, and a concern with the particular. When exam-
ining events, the historian is interested in the chain of events through
time. A social scientist, by contrast, may be interested in events in
order to extract static conclusions. The second element, change, thus
becomes the “essential content of historical analysis and description”
(Elton 1969:22). Fundamentally, history considers the transformation
of things (people, places, institutions, ideas), through time, from one
state into another. The third element. a concern for the particular, does
not imply a study of the unique alone, rather it is a recognition that
while facts and events may have similarities with other phenomena,
they are, nevertheless, particular to themselves.
History is the study of the past as revealed by present evidence.
Although all disciplines are concerned with the validity of their data, it
is perhaps a characteristic of historians that they are particularly aware
of the nature of the evidence with which they have to work. This
awareness, in turn, tends to lead to an unwillingness to generalize
widely from their findings, with an emphasis on the complexity of what
they are studying.
The above summary does not represent the totality of the historical
approach. Philosophical and methodological perspectives have shifted
over time. History has been subject to the ideographic/nomothetic
. debate, positivist approaches via the social sciences, as well as the
concepts of Marxism, Humanism, and Structuralism (Barraclough
1979; Baker 1984). 0 ne important approach has been that argued by
the “Annales” school of history in France. This stresses the need to
integrate the findings and methods of other disciplines into studies of
the whole of human activity. The “history of events” is replaced by an
emphasis on structural analysis. In Braudel’s writings, this became the

study of the interplay between long-term continuities (the longue-durtfe,

the slowly changing environment surrounding man), the more rapid
economic, demographic and cultural cycles (con@tures) and the short-
term life-cycles of the individual (evhwnmts) (Braudel 1958). Converse-
ly, some historians have returned to a narrative mode of explanation
(Stone 1979).
Despite the variety of approaches, a central concern of history is
understanding change through time. It is this distinctive view which
forms history’s contribution to tourism studies.


There are a number of historical studies that relate to tourism. It is

worth noting at this point, however, that very little mainstream histori-
cal research has, so far, permeated the corpus of tourism studies. Con-
versely, some writings on tourism which have adopted an historical
perspective have been produced by writers who are not professional
historians. Therefore, this paper largely represents a consideration of
the potential of historical work for tourism studies; one which has yet to
be realized.
A number of major works of scholarship have been produced since
the earlier part of this century which are of immediate relevance to
tourism. Although there appear to be three broad themes of inquiry,
much of this work has been sporadic. The themes are tourism in the
ancient and medieval worlds, the Grand Tour era of the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, and the growth of spas and seaside resorts.

Ancient and Medieval Worlds

Perhaps one of the first major studies of relevance to tourism history

is Friedlander’s (1965) comprehensive examination of life and manners
in the early Roman Empire. The sections on “Verkehrwesen” and “Die
Reisen der Touristen” are particularly relevant. In addition to tracing
travel through the empire, Friedlander noted the emergence of second
homes for wealthy Roman citizens in the Bay of Naples area. Friedlan-
der’s work was not really supplanted until the 1960s. Lindsay (1965)
examined leisure in Roman Egypt, Balsdon’s (1969) authoritative study
was of life and leisure in Rome, while D’Arms (1970) considered the
growth of villas along the Bay of Naples. The later study by Casson
(1974) both reinforced and extended these studies and his work remains
the main source in this area.
For the medieval period, two works should be noted. Parks (1954)
has made a detailed study of travel between England and Rome from
Anglo-Saxon times to the early sixteenth century. A more recent study
has been Hunt’s (1984) analysis of pilgrimages to the Holy Land in the
fourth and fifth centuries. As well as details of routes and travel infra-
structures, both studies give insights into forms of tourism when travel
conditions had become increasingly difficult.

Grand TourEra
The tours of Europe, which became more important from the seven-
teenth century and which gradually developed into the institution of
the Grand Tour, have attracted some attention from historians. Follow-
ing Bates’ (1911) study of seventeenth century travel in Europe, Mead
(1914) provided a comprehensive view of the Grand Tour during the
eighteenth century as undertaken bv the English. His book covers
issues such as the tourists, travel conditions, accommodation, costs and
dangers, as well as a review of each of the main countries visited. While
a distinctly Anglo-centric approach has characterized research both in
this era and later into the nineteenth century (Pemble 1987), a wider,
European, dimension has been provided by Schudt (1959) and Krasno-
baev (1980).

Sparand Seasiak Resorts

Historians and historical geographers have paid particular attention
to the evolution of tourism in specific localities, especially the develop-
ment of spas and seaside resorts in Britain. Gilbert’s early studies
(1939, 1954) have been followed by numerous works, most notably
Pimlott (1947), Walvin (1978a), and Walton (1983). Valuable insights
have been provided by historians on the relationship between resort
growth and power and landownership. In nineteenth century Britain,
the development of resorts reflected the varying influences of patrician
landowners, middle class businessmen, and evolving local government
(Cannadine 1980). Th e evolution of tourism in the south of France has
attracted historical research (Haug 1982) as has the English Lake Dis-
trict (Walton and McGloin 1981). The more informal touring aspect of
tourism has received less attention, though there have been studies for
Britain from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries (Moir 1964).
At this point, Pimlott’s (1947) work deserves particular mention, as it
has acquired the status of a landmark in the field. Pimlott not only
covered the growth of spas and seaside resorts, but also dealt with the
Grand Tour and nineteenth century travel in Europe, working class
leisure and tourism, and the development of government legislation for
holidays. Although very much confined to the English experience, the
range of source material that Pimlott used (and explained in his anno-
tated bibliography) makes the work a model of historical synthesis.


A significant theme to emerge in British historiography in the last

fifteen years has been the study of leisure. For the majority of histori-
ans, tourism tends to be subsumed within the broader field of leisure,
but the difference of emphasis does not lessen the relevance of their
findings. Indeed, as tourism researchers explore the interrelationships
between leisure, recreation, and tourism, the two areas will increasing-
ly find common ground.
Walton and Walvin (1983) and Bailey (1989) have usefully summa-
rized developments in leisure history in the last ten to fifteen years and
the following commentary owes much to their observations. In the

earlier review, Walton and Walvin emphasized the complex regional

and local differences that characterized leisure experiences in the nine-
teenth and early twentieth centuries. They also noted how the leisure
themes explored by historians are colored by the availability of source
materials and are subject to prevailing fashions in historiography.
Thus, leisure has generally been tied closely to class, with working class
leisure seen as an expression of class and cultural identity “under attack
from the repressive and manipulative forces of middle class authority”
(Walton and Walvin 1983). Studies have tended to concentrate on
large-scale leisure forms which tend to create their own source material
and commentary. Small-scale, informal leisure practices have tended to
be neglected. Furthermore, the leisure “success stories” (e.g., the larger
resorts) have been studied at the expense of the complex pattern of
achievement and failure. In addition, the continuity of earlier leisure
forms has possibly been underestimated, with attention more focused
on the rise of new activities.
Bailey’s recent review (1989) has noted two important themes in
British leisure historiography. First, a broad chronology of the changes
in leisure, especially in the nineteenth century, has been established.
Second, a debate over the main contributing factors to these changes
has emerged. These themes clearly underpin attempts to understand
the evolution of tourism, but it appears that these developments have
not, so far, penetrated tourism research.
A major concentration of historical research has been into the trans-
formation of leisure for the working class (Bailey 1979; Malcolmson
1973); a bias only partly corrected by studies such as Thompson’s
(1988) on Victorian society. Working class leisure underwent profound
changes in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; from the
close integration of work and leisure, its breakdown under the pressure
of middle class evangelicalism, urbanization and industrial capital, to
its transformation in the late nineteenth century into forms which
included tourism (Walton 1981; Walton and Walvin 1983). This story
has been extended into the twentieth century by Walvin (1978b) and
<Jones (1986). During the nineteenth century, leisure time and activities
also expanded for the middle class, adopting practices in some cases
derivative of the upper classes, but, as Thompson (1988) points out,
evolving in a complex process that does not adhere to simple class
In addition to a clearer picture of the major trends in leisure (and
tourism) in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, historians
have also engaged in a debate over the underlying causes of these
trends. Perhaps the most important conclusion to be drawn is that the
evolution of leisure has been “a process that has been erratic, complex
and contentious” (Bailey 1989). Thus, although major changes can be
related to the nineteenth century industrial revolution and its impact
on labor discipline, technology, and class structures, some historians
also see leisure as having its own momentum which is not simply
dependent on external forces.
In this theoretical and ideological debate, Marxist, revisionist, and
culturalist perspectives have been employed. For example, Bailey
(1989) cites the case of Cunningham (1980) who, in his study of leisure

from 1780 to 1880, sees the leisure pursuits of the working class as not
simply imitating those of the middle class, but being their own distinc-
tive creations. This has implications for ideas on the evolution of tour-
ism where “mass follows class” is frequently adopted as a simple form of
explanation. As part of this debate, one also finds writers such as
Thompson (1963) departing from Marxist convention in seeing culture
as partly detached from the material base and others looking to Grams-
ci (Golby and Purdue 1984), where class domination is more a picture
of securing consent as well as shifting alignments.
Thus, leisure history, according to Bailey, has been mainly con-
cerned with issues of agency and structure, the role of class and its
ensuing relationships. Enmeshed within these arguments has been the
role of the state and the extent to which it reflected and served the
interests of the middle classes. Again, this has immediate relevance for
tourism history; for understanding national legislation for holidays, or
the role of local government and business in creating seaside resorts
(Walton 1983; Walton and Walvin 1983). The ideas of culture and
structure and agency have, for example, informed the studies of leisure
and tourism during the early twentieth century in Hardy and Ward’s
examination of working class leisure in Britain (Ward and Hardy
The field of leisure history in Britain has, therefore, developed im-
portant empirical studies and a theoretical debate. As yet, these devel-
opments tend to be skewed in particular directions. There has been a
preoccupation with the experiences of the working classes (where tour-
ism was relatively less significant) and a concentration on the more
visible and well-documented aspects of leisure. Studies of the seaside
resort predominate over the informal holiday in the countrvside. Simi-
larly, there have been geographical biases in the research, with London
and the northern textile towns attracting more attention than other
urban and industrial environments (Walton and Walvin 1983). Most
significant, however, is that few of these developments have, so far,
contributed to the growth of core theory and a body of knowledge
within tourism studies (Towner 1988).


The chronology of historical research on tourism, as presented

above, is almost entirely a reflection of research which has been under-
taken in Europe, especially Great Britain. This chronology is unsuit-
able for application to North America. For example, the literature on
the medieval period and the Grand Tour has little relevance to North
America and is rarely referenced by North American tourism research-
ers. The first travelers to North America were explorers and immi-
grants, and they were soon followed by large numbers of curious,
wealthy travelers, many of whom returned home and wrote about their
experiences in the New World. These documents have proven to be a
rich source of information for historians, but little of their research can
be categorized as research on the history of tourism. Later on, wealthy
North Americans traveled in the opposite direction and a selection of
. 77

them have become the subject of a recent book on Canadian travelers

in Europe (Kroller 1987).
While the history of tourism can be characterized as an emerging
area of scholarly endeavor in Europe, it scarcely deserves even this
recognition in North America where the number of researchers is limit-
ed and those that exist are working in relative isolation. There are
several reasons for this. One is the relative recency of the arrival of
Europeans on the continent and the preoccupation with documenting
the history of exploration, settlement, resource exploitation, transpor-
tation, urbanization, and other aspects of the permanent occupation of
North American space, to the relative neglect of such seemingly “frivo-
lous” topics as tourism and recreation.
A second reason is the configuration of the North American conti-
nent and its implications for the use of terminology. In contrast to
Europe, where there is a large number of small countries in close
juxtaposition and a traveler embarking on more than a relatively short
journey is likely to cross an international border, in North America
there are few such frontiers to cross and the traveler can go thousands
of miles and still be within the country of origin. The result of this has
been that most travel has been domestic rather than international, that
writers have expressed interest in recreation rather than tourism, that
long-distance pleasure travel in North America has been called recrea-
tion rather than tourism, and that explicit interest in tourism is recent
and has followed the rapid expansion of international travel which was
facilitated by the invention of the wide-bodied jet. These observations
are particularly true of the United States, but are somewhat less appli-
cable to Canada, where a larger proportion of researchers have had
training in Britain, have maintained their ties to that country, and have
been influenced strongly by its scholarship.

Status ofNorth American Research

As has been implied in the above discussion, the number of pub-

lished manuscripts on the history of tourism in North America is limit-
ed. For many years, Dulles’ (1940) history of recreation and Amory’s
(1948) popular writing on coastal resorts and spas were two of very few
American works which included much material on the history of tour-
ism. However, they were not concerned explicitly with this topic. A
thorough regional study was undertaken by Pomeroy (1957) on the
American west. Belasco (1979) has examined the evolution of touring
by automobile and Jakle (1985) has provided the most comprehensive
documentation of the history of tourism in North America currently
available, although Sutton’s (1980) work covers a longer time period.
More recently, Sears (1989), in a work which concentrates upon the
nineteenth century, has argued that tourist attractions have played an
especially important role in the development of a distinctive American
cultural identity.
In Canada, the volume edited by Wall and Marsh (1982) contains
much on the history of tourism, including a brief introduction to
themes in the investigation of the evolution of outdoor recreation,
which includes information on tourism.

Spas and Seaside Resorts

As in Europe, a literature on spas and seaside resorts has emerged in

North America, but it is much less comprehensive than that available
in Britain. Bridenbaugh (1946) made an early seminal contribution to
the literature on spas and, although concerned with permanent resi-
dents as well as tourists, Jones (1967) has studied “health- seekers” in
the American southwest. However, the writings which have followed
have been sporadic and fragmentary and have tended to be case studies
not drawing upon the earlier literature. Many of the prominent hot
springs in North America, such as Arkansas Hot Springs, Yellowstone.
and Banff, are now located in national parks. Further, the study of such
locations is most often included as part of an investigation of the histor)
of national parks, rather than as a study of tourism per se.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of research on the history of
seaside resorts in North America is that there is not more of it. This
may be explicable in Canada where the ocean coasts have been less
important for tourism than the interior lakes. Researchers in Canada,
such as Wolfe (1962) and Wall (1977), have investigated the evolution of
resorts and second homes in what has come to be known as “cottage
country” and, although not a spa or a seaside resort, Niagara Falls has
also received considerable attention. In the United States, oceanic
coastal resorts are an important phenomenon and it is not easy to
explain their relative neglect. While some resorts, such as Atlantic City
(Funnel1 1975; Stansfield 1978) and Coney Island (Pilat and Ranson
1941; Snow and Wright 1976) h ave received quite thorough investiga-
tion, others seem to have been overlooked. For example, Florida, sur-
prisingly, appears to be almost virgin territory for the historian of
tourism. There are few examples of authors who have studied more
than one resort, although Kyriazi (1976) has produced a well-illustrat-
ed history of amusement parks.
As the literature grows on both sides of the Atlantic, a small number
of enterprising scholars have produced comparative statements (De-
mars 1979; Lewis 1980; Stansfield 1972). The two continents did not
develop in isolation. For example, it is possible that aspects of Ameri-
can spa life have European precursors, whereas amusement park tech-
nology moved in the other direction. Does this suggest something about
British culture and American technology? Unfortunately, there cur-
rently appear to be few scholars who have a thorough grasp of the
literature outside of their own country, or who are interested in cultural
transfer or comparative studies.

Parks and Wilderness Areas

National parks, and to a lesser extent state and provincial parks, are
one type of tourist destination which has received a great deal of atten-
tion in North America. Although often regarded as being areas for
preservation rather than for use, research in both Canada (Bella 1987;
Hart 1983) and the United States (Runte 1979), as well as in New
Zealand, has demonstrated that these areas were important tourist
destinations from their beginnings. The histories of the park systems as
a whole, as well as particular parks, have been thoroughly documented

in numerous locations and, although not devoted specifically to tour-

ism history, works on these topics merit careful scrutiny by the historian
of tourism.
There is also a broader literature, more developed in the United
States than Canada, which addresses evolving relationships between
North Americans and their lands. Since much tourism in North Amer-
ica has involved excursions to scenic wonders and relatively wild areas,
it is of direct interest to students of the history of tourism. This research
also examines the transfer of European concepts (such as the pictur-
esque, the sublime, and the beautiful) to North America. The writings
of Nash (1967) and Huth (1972), in particular, are especially impor-


The conceptual orientation of North American researchers has been

less marked than that of their British colleagues. With the exception of
tourist cycles, discussed below, North American researchers have tend-
ed to undertake detailed case studies, with little attempt to link their
investigations to broader themes in history or tourism research. In fact,
there are a large number of popular histories of specific tourist destina-
tions which are written predominantly for a local clientele by local
residents or devotees of the resorts, rather than by professional histori-
ans. North American historical tourism research has not benefitted
greatly from strong links with leisure research and has not become
deeply involved in the theoretical and ideological debates which have
occupied British leisure historians. This is a necessarv step if a major
contribution to the cut and thrust of historical debate is to be made.


Apart from the work of professional historians, the history of tourism

has attracted attention from social scientists who have been aiming for
a temporal perspective on aspects of tourism development. A notable
contribution in this field was the special issue ofAnnals of Tourism Research
(Butler and Wall 1985). Here, a number of general models and frame-
works of tourism were used as a basis for research. Concepts such as
Butler’s cycle (1980) were employed, while Towner’s (1985) study tried
to fit the Grand Tour within a general framework of the tourism sys-
tem. The idea of cycles of development has been applied in numerous
studies. Butler’s cycle has received most discussion in the literature, but
some authors have expressed reservations concerning its usefulness
(Haywood 1986), and there are other cycles, such as that suggested by
Krakover (1985) for remote areas, which merit more widespread dis-
cussion and testing.
Much of the research has been concerned with changes within desti-
nation areas, such as changes in numbers and characteristics of visi-
tors, changes in resident attitudes, and changes in sources of invest-
ment and degree of local control. However, the evolution of
relationships between resorts and their surrounding areas, and the
developing tourist travel systems have also been of interest.


Despite the existence of a body of material, research into the history

of tourism per se remains scattered. The bibliographies of Baretje (1981,
1984, 1985, 1987) from the Centre des Hautes Etudes Touristiques are
a valuable source for work in this field, especially for the international
perspective that is provided. Yet, according to Reni Baretje (personal
communication in 1989), published work remains infrequent. Basic
language problems, of course, inhibit the spread of significant research
from outside the English-speaking world (e.g., Boyer 1963, 1980) and
an Anglo-centric bias remains evident in academic journals.
While the number of publications specifically on the history of tour-
ism has increased in recent years, much of the relevant research, partic-
ularly in North America, has been produced as a by-product of investi-
gations with other objectives. British historians have shown a longer
interest and a keener insight into leisure phenomena as a whole than
their American counterparts, who would benefit from increased expo-
sure to current ideological debates. However, communication is frus-
trated by the fact that much relevant North American research has
“recreation” rather than “tourism” in the title. Historical research in
Britain appears to have been particularly concerned with urban resorts,
such as spas and seaside resorts, whereas North American research has
been more concerned with park and wilderness settings. Much histori-
cal research in tourism to date has been of particular places with little
concern as to whether they were typical or unique. Similarly, only
limited attempts have been made, particularly in North America, to
link the research to the intellectual issues of the day: this is essential if
historians of tourism are to use their expertise to illuminate broader
social questions.
The highly dynamic nature of tourism and the great academic and
practical significance of understanding processes of change have at-
tracted the attention of a growing number of researchers, many of
whom are not trained historians. Emphasis has been placed on rapid
change to the relative neglect of the considerable continuities which
exist in patterns of tourism. Recent change has attracted attention to
the relative neglect of the more distant past. By definition, historians
do not study current phenomena, although they may have a great deal
to say about their roots. Tourism on a global scale has grown rapidly
only in the second half of this century, and tourism is only now becom-
ing an acceptable area for research in any discipline. Devotees of an
emerging area tend to look where they might go rather than where they
have been. Many still regard tourism as a new phenomenon. However,
tourism has a history and some steps have been taken to document it
But, clearly, more needs to be done in order to understand many
aspects of the origins and evolution of tourism. It has been suggested
that “If historians of recreation are to do justice to their subject matter,
they must set themselvres lofty goals, reach out beyond the narrow
bounds of their sub-discipline, and relate their findings to major
themes which challenge intellects across disciplines” (Wall 1989). There
are signs that historians of tourism are beginning to take up the chal-
lenge. 00


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Submitted 16 i\pril 1990

Revised version submitted 6 June 1990
Accepted 2 July 1990
Refereed anonymousl)