Date of Degree

2-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor(s)

Linda Grasso

Subject Categories

American Popular Culture | American Studies | Social History

Keywords

Black America, Nate Salsbury, Buffalo Bill's Wild West, William Cody, Disney's America, American South, Tourism, Heritage Tourism

Abstract

Through the analysis of a theatrical event staged in Brooklyn, New York, entitled Black America (1895), this thesis interrogates cultural heritage tourism of the past and present and introduces a new classification of tourist site, “site of historical amusement.” In this current political moment, one during which regional pride and latent racism are bubbling to the surface, this study advocates for the continued interrogation of how the American story is bought and sold.

Sites of historical amusement are historically themed spaces that sell a recontextualized narrative that strips complexity from history, effectively flattening the past in order to create a cultural product palatable to the masses. Nate Salsbury’s Black America was a large scale plantation show that did this by presenting “authentic Southern Negro culture,” one that played on common tropes and the political realities of the day. Black America’s racist presentation attracted thousands of visitors during its short run, reinforcing longstanding and dangerous stereotypes of African Americans and elevating a nationalistic worldview rooted in white supremacy. This study uses Black America as a case study to explore the political and cultural work done at sites of historical amusement. It also identifies similar sites of the past and present, including Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, The Chicago World’s Fair, Disneyland, and Disney’s America, a failed 1990s Disney project.

Sites of Historical Amusement: Tourism and the Recontextualization of American History takes an interdisciplinary approach by pairing the previous scholarship on Black America with that of tourism studies scholars, scholars of memory and popular culture, and primary documents from museums and archives. In doing so, new connections between tourism, racial performance, and American history are made.

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