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Ladybird landscape; or, what to look for in the 'What to Look For' books

Burchardt, J. ORCID: (2020) Ladybird landscape; or, what to look for in the 'What to Look For' books. Rural History, 31 (1). pp. 79-95. ISSN 1474-0656

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1017/S095679331900030X


The interlocking relationships between agriculture, nature, science and modernity underwent fundamental, far-reaching change in mid-twentieth century Britain. This article examines Ladybird's iconic, best-selling but under-researched ‘What to Look For’ seasonal natural history series, focusing particularly on the illustrations by the distinguished wildlife artist Charles Tunnicliffe and their relationship to the text by the biologist L. Grant Watson. Beneath their apparent simplicity, the ‘What to Look For’ books attempt an ambitious, forwards-looking synthesis between mechanisation and tradition, nature and livelihood that calls into question historiographical critiques (by Newby, Miller and Bunce, for example) of contemporary representations of the rural as nostalgic and evasive. The ‘What to Look For’ books quietly subvert some of the more distorting tropes of English landscape representation. People are shown going about their everyday work (in contrast to the ‘landscape without figures’ tradition) and modern farm machinery such as tractors and seed drills are also acknowledged and even celebrated. Tunnicliffe and Grant Watson sought to harmonize these potentially discordant elements; their vision of the rural was an inclusive one that accommodated working women, children and even to some extent ethnic diversity. Yet in the second half of the twentieth century attempts to imagine a positive relationship between rurality and modernity such as Ladybird’s were increasingly undermined by escalating ecological crisis.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > History
ID Code:88729
Publisher:Cambridge University Press


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