Curating ‘northernness’ in Neolithic Orkney: A Contemporary Monumental Biography

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The Neolithic landscapes of the Orkney Islands were legitimated as authentic material fabrics with intrinsic links to the advent of farming in Northwest Europe and the development of the Scottish nation when they were collectively inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) in 1999. Recently, the management and planning policies that were designed to ensure its material and aesthetic maintenance were challenged by a proposal for the construction of a wind farm to be built within view of three of the four monuments that constitute the site. The justification for this development was itself philosophically linked to discourses of ‘conservation’, related in particular to concepts of environmental and ‘community’ sustainability. The proposal was bitterly debated and ultimately rejected by a Scottish Government Enquiry on grounds that the aesthetic authenticity of the site would be compromised if the farm were to be constructed, and therefore put its World Heritage status in question. This paper presents a brief history of the ways in which the arguments about the aesthetics perceived to be under threat at the site, as well as justifications for the development of the wind farm, both drew historical and political cache from the deployment of particular aesthetic categories of ‘northernness’ that have been cultivated in relation to Orkney in particular, and Scotland more generally, over the last two centuries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-270
JournalVisual Studies
Issue number3
Early online date4 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2013


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