Edwardian Historical Pageant - or Who the English thought they were

Ms Ayako Yoshino

Saturday, 23 November, 2002; 7:30-9:30pm

Munby Room, King's College

The Twentieth Century Historical Pageant has been neglected until recently by British academic researchers. Invented in 1905 and a significant part of mainstream culture until the early 1950s, Historical Pageantry changed its character during this period to a variety of forms including early, relatively uniform nationalistic displays, war propaganda and, eventually, more diverse forms including the 1930s' Popular Front pageants. While the subject has attracted increasing academic attention in the US and, over the past five years, in the UK, there has not been a book length study of British pageants since Robert Withington's monumental English Pageantry (1921).
My research is concentrating on Edwardian English Pageantry, which has provided the basis for later pageant variants. Drawing an audience often as large as half a million within a week, the major Edwardian pageants grappled with local, national, Imperial, class and gender narratives in a usually explicit nationalistic project to weld an acceptable version of a shared past. This research attempts to uncover the reality of modern pageantry from two perspectives. First of all, it tries to locate the phenomenon in its contemporary socio-political context. With the turn of the century bringing challenges of mass democracy, socialism, increasingly complex religious and irreligious debate, militaristic nationalism, and, increasingly assertive women, the motivations and methods of this pageant project are a rich area of study.
Second, my research attempts to locate pageant scripts in their literary context. Pageant scripts typically relied heavily on what their audiences already knew. Popular plays and historical novels are alluded in the scripts both directly and indirectly. Literature there was made truly communal. The paper will show how the pageant both tried to resist and create social changes by means of creating and presenting a shared national history.