“A nation built on coal”: transcalar memory work at the Big Pit

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Department of Social Sciences


Welsh and coal heritage may seem synonymous in the context of Welsh identities. One of seven national museums, Big Pit and its associated memory work reflect and shape the intertwined dynamic discourses of Wales and coal for visitors. We explore these discourses through a mixed methodology, highlighting the changing and transcalar nature of Wales itself, particularly the devolution of the tourism, heritage, and culture sector in 1997 from the UK Government to the Welsh Government. How have the discourses of National Museum Wales and Big Pit shifted in conjunction with devolutionary power transfers? This paper reflects upon the complicated and fluid discourses of Welshness within the museum’s landscapes. Migration, the dialectic of capital industrialization, and the romanticization of the banal activity of work are all central to these discourses at the Big Pit. Transcalar relationships of tourism and heritage fuel and challenge these discourses as the Big Pit sits on the edge of a UK National Park, on the European Route of Industrial Heritage, and as a central institution of the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape UNESCO World Heritage Site. These interscalar and geopolitical relationships of memory, heritage, and tourism emerge from our multisensory analysis and speak to questions echoing across the United Kingdom and other multi-nation states navigating spatial and temporal shifts in the geopolitics of their tourism sectors. All industrial heritage sites navigate national identities in overt and covert ways. The relationships between resources, heritage sites, the state, and visitors shape the landscapes of industrial heritage sites and their embeddedness into community and national narratives. As Big Pit has transitioned from a small industrial heritage site managed by the UK-overseen National Museum of Wales towards a major tourist attraction and equal member of the seven-site Welsh-overseen National Museum Wales, we identify geopolitical shifts in coal and national heritage.

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Tourism Geographies