Tourism as an Index Fossil of Modernity

19.11.19 / Video (in German)
Hasso Spode on continuity and change
Lecture, 25.9.19, Forum Stadtpark

Index fossils are ossified remains that allow geologists to identify the boundaries of different geological strata. In cultural history, tourism is such an indicator for modernity. In his lecture Professor Hasso Spode gives a broad historical overview ranging from the invention of travel for pleasure in the era of Romanticism and the industrialization of tourism during the 19th and 20th centuries to today’s overtourism. His main focus is the ambivalence of this development. Mass tourism entailed a great democratization of elite practices and brought affluence to impoverished regions such as the Alps or Europe’s coasts, where the touristic gaze transformed non-places that had previously been considered ugly into “authentic” and “natural” attractions. On the other hand, the tourism industry has always posed a cultural and physical threat to these very places through the sheer mass of visitors; More recent criticisms focus on its ecological footprint. Spode reports on the tourism boom under National Socialism and the reconstruction of the European tourism industry in the postwar period, leading up to a critique of tourism today. What Spode finds particularly remarkable is the persistence of both the basic Romantic attitude and the attacks on tourism as harmful. Despite our knowledge that “nature” and “authenticity” are impossible fantasies, they nevertheless continue to fascinate us.

Hasso Spode (1951, Berlin) is a historian, sociologist, and one of the founders of the historical study of tourism. His research focuses on the history of mobility and the social history of alcohol consumption. Spode is based in Berlin.