Swiss Alpine landscape heritage and its representation in tourism blogs – research assistance

By Tereza Kobosilova, class of 2021

As the programme of Heritage Studies requires the students to take up some electives, I found myself looking for a way to meet the 6ECs in my first period. Since most of the initial electives were in Dutch, I was happy for the opportunity to help out with research for an article about travel blog narratives of Alpine Swiss landscapes by researchers Linde Egberts and Emanuele Mele. Being fluent in spoken and written German, my task was to analyse a number of travel blogs about Swiss Alps in German and to put together an outcome of my analysis that would form together with analysis of the French and Italian travel blogs a wholesome picture about the representation of the Swiss landscape and its tangible as well as intangible heritage. Having a technical background of studying Architecture at a Technical University in Vienna, this was a very new environment and an unusual task for me. However, I was able to use my training in visual skills and also to learn new skills of systematic analysis and interpretation within the context of heritage discourse. This proved to be quite useful very early on because the topic of Authorized Heritage Discourse and authenticity turned out to be our bread and butter in almost every discussion in class for the first few weeks.

printscreen of an analysed blogpost

As I was going through blog after blog, article upon article, I started noticing many similarities in the presented photographs and the use of specific phrases and words to describe the Swiss landscape. The visual analysis was the first step of my research to get a general picture of the way how the bloggers perceive and present the Swiss Alps to their readers. After that, I focused more on the written part of articles. In the end, I compared the blogs with each other. With Linde and Emanuele, we discussed all of the outcomes in a number of zoom sessions where we also got to draw the first comparisons with the Italian and the French travel blogs that also dealt with the topic of the Alpine landscape in Switzerland and its heritage. The Authorized Heritage Discourse came up in our zoom discussions as well. In short, the AHD frames the dominant perception of heritage. The main role in this discourse is assigned to experts who determine the value of things that ought to be perceived as heritage. Just as the Parthenón is the epitome of what general public considers cultural heritage, the beautiful Alpine scenery with its sunlit meadows, snowy peaks and clear blue skies is the typical postcard picture of Switzerland. The goal of the analysis was to see if the travel bloggers set themselves in this defined framework or if they rather challenge it and show a different picture of this landscape. Since I feel most comfortable in visual research I started with an analysis of websites and photographs. This was the best way for me to grasp the overall idea of the dominant discourse on each website and to compare it with other travel blogs. The outcomes of this visual research partly confirmed the AHD. The picture of Swiss Alps that was very often presented and emphasized with key words was this one: a figure of a traveller triumphantly standing on a peak in front of a vast ‘picturesque’ landscape as if except for them and a few cows there is not a single soul around. Wooden huts standing as solitaires without a human in sight and the ‘magic’ landscape playing the main part in this great performance of the sun-lit earth and the ‘clear blue sky’. Of course, not every blog played along and there were more insights into the culture of the Swiss Alps. However, the photographs emphasized mostly this picture.

Image of a yellow signpost taken from German-language blog

A rather surprising outcome of this visual research was the overwhelming number of the yellow sign posts guiding the way of hikers. Is it the contrast of the colours yellow, green and blue that makes for a great photograph? Is it a representation of Swiss precision? Or is it a tool of storytelling for the article? We discussed these and more questions with Linde and Emanuele for their article. The outcome of the analysis of the German travel blogs showed that the majority of travel blogs present their experience of Swiss Alps mostly in a way that travel and tourism agencies would – a picture of Matterhorn mirrored in water followed by a red train racing through green landscape and hills without a human in sight. It is indeed a place of iconic views which are no less impressive in person than they are in a touristic brochure. However, most of the bloggers complete it with an individual experience of this landscape which helps to bring this landscape much closer to the reader. In addition, the few articles on the culture and daily life in this landscape hinted at other rather undiscovered layers of the landscape that call for more exploration.