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On Holiday: A History of Vacationing.

On Holiday: A History of Vacationing. By Orvar Lofgren. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. Pp. 320, introduction, notes, bibliography, index, illustrations.)

On Holiday, the sixth release in the on-going series, California Studies in Critical Human Geography, follows a generally linear path in its discussion of vacationing, but with a readable twist. Rather than struggle to digest and explain all contributing elements in relation to a stream of historic events or other emerging and interacting phenomena, the author prepares a sort of filet of the subject and sets it in an appropriate context. Orvar Lofgren opts to string together carefully chosen illustrative examples which link logically one with another. Drawing mostly from western Europe, England, and the United States, the author creates a broad introduction to what we call holidaying or vacationing.

These particular choices in no way preclude other workers with differing perspectives on analysis from grinding out some mighty tome or indeed from bringing into being another traditional social history. Lofgren leaves ground for other scholars of culture, leisure, and gender to till. Lofgren notes what he feels to be characteristic of class practice within the construction of the meaning of holiday.

By necessity and design On Holiday is selective of its coverage, offering a representative sample of issues within a consumable scope. This approach is fairly standard. By way of comparison, John A. Jakle heaps item on item in his The Tourist: Travel in Twentieth-Century North America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985), with little emphasis on analysis, and MacCannell creates a more or less compelling analytical argument in his The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class (New York: Schocken Books, 1976) and offers only occasional necessary examples. On Holiday nestles at some point in between. In addition, the focus of Lofgren's book is in a real sense narrower than the basic topic of tourism. Here is an examination, and close discussion, of folks involved in leisure away from home, but not necessarily in foreign or exotic settings.

Orvar Lofgren is Professor of European Ethnology at Sweden's University of Lund, and he has penned about a dozen books. This current release, On Holiday: A History of Vacationing, has a clear connection with what has been suggested is his best-known publication (with Jonas Frykman), Culture Builders: A Historical Anthropology of Middle-Class Life (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987). While On Holiday does not contest the area chestnut that "travelers are those who can travel" (implying that as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the expenditure of resources is evident in mere observation), it does raise the interesting observation that class is often obscured on vacation, holiday, or in tourist events.

Lofgren writes tightly and parsimoniously, but he frames the information with a winning amalgam of straight reportage, occasional reference to rote data, prudently chosen anecdotal material, and just enough personal narrative to be warm while avoiding identity overexposure. The transparent prose may be off-putting to that tribe of reader sutured to the idea that obscurity suggests profundity.

The text is developed through the presentation of details contemporary with the emergence of mass tourism, with obvious emphasis on the holidaymaker. These components, mostly dealing with the period from 1850 to 1950, are supported by earlier historical matter. Ideas of the picturesque and the sublime are important in the later growth of leisure travel, and while On Holiday is not a discussion of changes in intellectual perspective across the 1700s, this period is usefully brought to bear on vacationing in the 19th and 20th centuries. Most readers will be familiar with this period of social fermentation, so Lofgren limits himself to sketching the historical context in brief, using short but apt excerpts and quoted text from a number of sources. At the close of the book, the reader is brought through to the end of the 1990s.

Lofgren paces his book along three sections further divided into eight chapters. Thus, the text moves from "Landscapes and Mindscapes," with its three chapters, to "Getaways," and its pair of chapters, and finally "Between the Local and the Global" containing the closing three. This organizational scheme allows the scholar to follow threads--such as changes in the way the viewer "views" the natural world--across a terrain composed of technical and social shifts. The more than thirty illustrations are well chosen, and they include many examples of art (the generic term for graphic imagery used in commercial advertising) as well as period and contemporary photographs. Again, not only do these illustrations help tease out the meaning of Lofgren's text, but the presentation as a whole should suggest opportunities for other work to readers involved in the areas mentioned above.

Especially useful is the coordination of Lofgren's description of change in holidaymakers' perception of the outdoors and wilderness with the examples of early advertising. One area which could certainly be extended and enlarged upon is the author's fairly brief discussion of the Mediterranean's manufacture of local "front" and "rear" stage areas (199). Do holiday participants seek to play out desired "roles," for which an authentic backstage would be a handicap, or do visitors want to gain insight into the daily life of "real folk"? MacCannell deals with this idea at some length, and Lofgren seems to confirm the theory that visitors stimulate the creation of complex double-voice social and political discourse.

Obviously, part of the value of survey projects such as Orvar Lofgren's On Holiday: A History of Vacationing is the emergence of connections and associations which bubble up while one reads chapter through chapter. Development of the means to move, the invention and eventual accessibility of steam power, for example, created the industrial warren while producing the mechanism for carriage to a natural setting. Odious industrial settings have been transmuted into revenue generators as sites of "Industrial Tourism."

On Holiday makes a fine read for a motivated, curious consumer, even for those with little inclination to pursue the minutiae of these issues. Serious scholars on the topic may find themselves wishing that adult themes would have been more ardently and fully fleshed out. Happily, Lofgren does deal with the issue to some small degree--especially the reality of adults seeking sex on vacation. As a general rule, the text is more descriptive than analytical, with short shrift given to thick theory. It is far more relevant that the choices for inclusion were made with clarity and cohesion and that the book is useful to readers.

Jon Donlon

Independent Scholar
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Title Annotation:California Studies in Critical Human Geography series
Author:Donlon, Jon
Publication:Cultural Analysis
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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