'England expects': Nelson as a symbol of local and national identity within the museum

Sheila Watson


When Admiral Lord Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 his lifetime achievements and his agonizing death elevated him to the status of a national hero. While his reputation, significance and influence have waxed and waned his importance to British national identity has rarely been questioned. When, in 2002 a new Nelson Museum was founded in Great Yarmouth, a unique opportunity was offered to examine Nelson’s contemporary influence on the public imagination and his importance in the articulation of identity, both personal and communal. The research which is reported here was undertaken in 2004 and during 2005, the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar and Nelson’s death. It focused on the key players at the museum, the founders, the Curator, volunteers and visitors, using primary source documents and qualitative interviews. The findings suggest that Nelson was, without commemorative reminders in 2004, an important symbol of identity that has for most become disassociated from his military triumphs. The bicentenary reminded people of his naval exploits and his role in the defence of Britain thus re-enforcing his importance in history. This research also suggests that for some Nelson has become symbolic of English rather than British identity.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Sheila Watson

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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