Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Best Ways to Tell History

I'm currently grappling with the question of how best to interpret history. I'm open to there being many different ways and having different options depending on the type of audience and venue for the type of history that you're sharing...but I still think that there are boundaries. At the moment I cannot fine tune exactly where those boundaries are, but I know when I think someone has stepped well past them. I'm highly skeptical of emotional manipulation (let the facts speak for themselves and let the natural emotions of the context move you, but don't try to push me emotionally in order to make a point), I don't particularly want an overly theatrical retelling of something (do a reenactment/first person interpretation or just tell it to me straight), and most importantly I am a big fan of the genuine article coupled with keeping it simple.

What is bringing this issue to the fore at the moment is my reflections on a recent trip to the Land of Lincoln. I was there on business, to meet with the Lincoln National Heritage Area board and staff, but since my business is heritage tourism that meant that I saw a lot of the sites in the area. There was quite a mix of sites, offering various types of experiences for different audiences. For me, these sites ranged from the very genuine, to the moderately hokey, to the full on fake. I'd heard a great deal about all of these sites before I came for my visit and after touring them, the controversy started to make sense.

The heritage area has a well branded wayside marker program across the state.

First, because I was thinking about the whole Lincoln experience, I noticed a lot of signs for related sites on my way. If I'd had more time, I would have stopped at them all. My major stops were in Springfield. That was both a good and a bad thing. It was bad in that the Lincoln National Heritage Area has a wealth of resources across the 42 counties it serves, so only seeing the sites in Springfield does the story a great injustice. But I was on a fixed schedule and just had time to pop in, do the meeting, and basically pop out. In that limited amount of time, I did pack in quite a few site visits (although many of them involved me either quickly walking or jogging).

I was not the only person who liked the wayside markers. I saw people reading them everywhere, and this family stopped to take a picture of the story this one told.


The centerpiece of the Lincoln experience in Springfield is the Old State Capitol and its surrounding square. The Capitol building tells you the parts that are reconstructed and gives you a sort of forensic history of the place and why things have change. They don't pretend or try to hide things. The parking garage underneath is obviously modern and they haven't tried to give it a historic-ish look to fake it up. The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices are also on the square and they do things in a similar fashion. The law offices have been restored, but further architectural forensics have pointed out some flaws in how they interpret the building...so they tell you about that and about that process. My tour was great, it was informative and revealing and I got to feel like I was a part of the detective process, but I also got a feel for what Lincoln's life would have been like in that space.

View of the Old State Capitol building and the surrounding square. The law offices are to the far left.

Now, from checking out the websites for those two sites, you'll notice that they are both managed by the state historic preservation office...and since that's basically my training, it makes sense that I enjoyed the way that they did things. But what I liked was that there was not an attempt at chicanery. They wove in social and biographical history along with telling the story of the built environment (and how daily life would have worked within those spaces). They didn't try to ply me with aggrandized patriotic rhetoric or emotional hooks. I really loved it. It has a sense of the genuine and the honest...and integrity is very important to me.

Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices.

There was obviously a movement towards historic preservation in the area and I saw several great historic buildings that were obviously alive with new and evolving life. But the area around the Old State Capitol seemed to be particularly vibrant. Having that larger context really added to the experience for me.

A few blocks away from the old square was the only National Park Service site in Illinois, the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. I mostly liked the feel of the place. It was the first urban park within the NPS and you definitely get a feel for what the streetscape could have looked like when Lincoln lived there. The NPS building is obviously modern, but unobtrusive, and then you're turned out onto this gravel street and you can walk the antebellum neighborhood with a few people in historic dress and the rangers.

NPS welcome center at the edge of the historic neighborhood.

Here's my quibble (and this wouldn't be an issue for most people): they've done some reconstruction of what they think some of the buildings would have looked like, and some shifting around. That edges awfully close to the hokey recreated rustic villages that you see all over the country where communities have ripped historic buildings off of the landscape that crafted them to be plopped down in a fantasy village setting. The result tends to be schizophrenic and kind of sad. But this neighborhood had much more of a cohesive feel than those heritage villages (or the prototypical Greenfield Village), but I'm always very skeptical of places that take a Colonial Williamsburg approach. That means tearing out anything that doesn't fit with the time period that you're interpreting. To me that does a disservice to these historic settings because part of their story is that they evolve over time. On the other hand, you get a feel for what it could have been like for Abe to walk around this neighborhood and how close it was to his law offices and the legislature.

Only home Lincoln ever owned. There's a man in period dress walking from the house.

So, in short, I'm conflicted. The tour of the house was kind of shocking because so many of the original items are out there for you to interact with (in a non-touching way, of course). I like the way that they laid down new carpet on top of the historic carpet and through judicious use of motion sensors, they let you walk through the house in a way that gives the impression that you're just passing through like you're a guest. Considering that I'm used to the way that the Hermitage treats Andrew Jackson's artifacts (they've basically hermetically sealed the site and visitors can barely see inside the rooms), this experience was very liberating. I was also sort of honored to be able to be so close to the personal effects of such a prominent president and historic figure.

One guest decided to just hold onto his child rather than having her set off the motion sensors in Lincoln's bedroom.

My major quibble is that while our interpretive ranger was overall excellent, he blew it for me at the very end. He really knew his stuff, he could tell you about every article in each room, he wove in family history and accounts to personalize each space, he had great energy and kept us all moving...but at the end he quickly stuck in this speech to sum up our experience by saying something along the lines of, "thus you can see from his life that he was always against slavery and he fought tirelessly to battle against it and bring freedom to all people." Well...that's just not true. The bad history coupled with the overly patriotic plug...it didn't make me want to go out and wave a flag and it was an emotional plea...which I hate. It was misinformation and I expect more of an NPS site.

But the most troubling place of all was the Lincoln Library and Museum. I've heard so many things about this site and I was eager to see where I fit in the spectrum of opinions...because people either love it or hate it. I was truly unnerved. It was Disney and Ripley's-Believe-It-Or-Not do history. So you went into different shows and immersion experiences and you were greeted with a lot of technology and special effects with a rather troubling message. All of the shows engaged in multiple emotional pleas and some of their historical interpretation mangled facts so that the message could be more patriotic. The life-like museum figures staged all over the place also gave me the creeps.

The message of many of the exhibits and shows was the original artifacts were important to the telling of history...except that they didn't use them. So what they were saying and what they were showing were contradictory. There were a few original artifacts out, but they were shunted off to the side and you mostly had to walk past them (they weren't set up in such a way for you to adequately interact with them or learn from them). Even the immersion experiences (like recreating Lincoln lying in state in the Old State Capitol) could have benefited from some interpretation...because all you could do was gawk and walk through it rather than interact with it.

Where Lincoln and most of his family are buried. Why recreate a scene that people can travel just a short way to go see? Some of the museum experiences made you wonder why they created a fictionalized experience when the visitors were so close to the real place.

And while the docents were very engaging, they were all actors and some of their scripts troubled me (historically speaking). But I also worry about how sustainable this will be. It's cutting edge now, but how much will it take to maintain it or to update it? Unlike most tourism experiences, the way that this is designed it is mostly a tightly controlled and carefully timed experience. Be it a historic site or an aquarium, the trend is heavy towards self directed and highly personal experiences...but this museum goes more for a cattle herd approach. You really need to do it in a certain order for it to run smoothly and then you sit back and they operate the show and experience for you.

I like having some agency in my tourism experience. Well...basically I like having a sense of agency in most of what I do. I didn't get that in this site. There were elements that I thought were clever (like the Tim Russert news story bit) and I could see it working in another setting, but I couldn't find a balance that made me comfortable. It was all very dazzling, but I wonder if you asked a kid what she learned after coming out, what would she say? The technology seemed to be the star more so than the Lincoln story. I like using technology to enhance an experience or enhance a story, but the technology seemed to be the experience. It didn't feel homey...it felt sterile and contrived.

But they had a great gift shop. :). And the pull of consumerism in that space quickly eased the misgivings I had in my heart. I wouldn't do the museum again, but I'd return to their gift shop in a heartbeat.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

music heritage

As I am looking at the end of my time as a graduate student, I am pondering where I will go to next. I've loved my time in Tennessee, but I am looking towards new horizons. While I am eager for new adventures, I am also waxing sentimental about the place that I currently call home. I find that often as I drive through Nashville and see the city rising up on the horizon, I get a little giddy. Nashville is almost like a mythic place to me and I love that I'll always be able to tell people that I spent a significant part of my life living in Middle Tennessee.

I enjoy the culture and I enjoy the "feel" of Middle Tennessee. Even the urban areas retain a bit of the laid back countryside feel. People are friendly no matter who you are. I think that this contributes to so many celebrities moving to the region, because here they are treated (for the most part) just like anyone else. I have a friend who frequently runs into Nicole Kidman at Whole Foods in Nashville and I have too many stories of passing celebrities on the street. And it is more than just country music stars, although we've got a lot of those too. I used to go to a Bible study and music jam session at Amy Grant's house when I was a kid, along with a bunch of other kids from the area (she called this program The Loft and I still have the CDs, but I am not sure where the t-shirts have gone). But even though there were commercial products that came out of it, it really was just people gathering in her barn/recording studio (you had to see it, animals on the ground level, full recording studio in the loft of the barn) to hang out and sing songs with her and all of the big stars of Christian music at the time.

But this gets me to a point that is starting to rub me raw. I hate the tendency to try and make excuses for country music. I'm bothered that it is acceptable to be bigoted about poor, white, southerners and that this is what many people think sums up the country music experience (although, I confess that I do love the show Gone Country and have been to most of the places they feature...I like to celebrate the experience rather than hate on it). Country music has strong roots in African American music traditions and is part of a larger American folk music tradition. It is creative and full of diversity. And if you want to hear incredible country music, Nashville is the place to come and hear it. Even (or especially) if you think that you couldn't possibly like country music, I think you should give it a try in Nashville. If you want to know more about those Nashville music roots, I'm a fan of Louis Kyriakoudes book, The Social Origins of the Urban South: Race, Gender, and Migration in Nashville, but you should also check out this and this.

I have taken people to Robert's Western World (more authentic than Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, which is way touristy these days) to listen to real honky tonk music and every time those people say something along the lines of, "Wow...this is really good. I didn't think I liked country music." So when I say that Nashville is more than just country music, I say it as a way of apology or trying to sweep country music under the rug. But the live music scene in this region is so complex and omnipresent, that you simply cannot sum it up under the label "country music."

Almost any local restaurant has live music on some night of the week, even here in Murfreesboro. But people also play shows at other random locations. One of my favorite stories is of an odd night when I went to the Belcourt Theater (a renovated historic theater in Hillsboro Village (next to Vanderbilt campus)) to see the Diving Bell and the Butterfly and every time the door to our movie swung open, I swore that I could hear Ben Folds singing. Sure enough, when we got out of our movie, the larger room (which also has a stage) was having a small Ben Folds concert. Ben Folds lives in Nashville, loves the town, and is one of the many people who just shows up places to play some music from time to time.

And because of this kind of culture, a great many of the people you meet are involved in music in some shape or fashion. When I lived in Paris, TN, I decided that I would save up money to finally purchase a banjo. Dan Knowles (award winning old time banjo player and expert luthier) just happened to live there and so he made one for me. When I picked it up from him at Uncle Dave Macon Days (the annual old time music festival in Murfreesboro and the national competition for old time banjo, buckdancing, and clogging), I was extremely excited and took my new banjo in to work with me. Several people asked if they could play it, and they did...and played it well. Now, this is an office full of historians and historic preservationists, but it is a given that just by being in Middle Tennessee, someone will be able to play a stringed instrument. And that made me pause and take note that probably only in this area would I work in a place where most people played an instrument.

Dan Knowles unveiling my banjo at Uncle Dave Macon Days, July 2007

But what inspired this post? At the end of May I got to go to the Grand Ole Opry (a show like no other than everyone should go see at least once in their lives) to see Steve Martin play his banjo. He is the reason why I wanted to become a banjo player. I crew up watching him as a guest on SNL and him talking about why he loved to play the banjo. This past weekend he was a guest on Prairie Home Companion (a live radio show that has strong similarities to the Grand Ole Opry live radio show) and that brought music back to my mind.

Steve Martin playing at the Grand Ole Opry on May 31, 2009

He played to a packed house.

Also, this weekend the Tennessean had a special section talking about why people from all walks of life have moved to Nashville and why they have come to love it here. I assume this was a lead up to them running the story about the upcoming National Trust for Historic Preservation conference being here in October. Their article about that is getting some interesting comments. And while the focus of many of these articles is the built environment, it is the things that go on in those places that bring them to life and truly make them "must see" places. For Middle Tennessee, particularly Nashville it is the music scene that really charges the town and cityscapes with life.

The Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau people like to ask visitors, "What kind of music do they record more of in Nashville than anywhere else?" They answer is all kinds (it's their way of breaking people out of only thinking of country music when they think Nashville). The really push the Music City branding, and I think that they are building on something truly authentic. The Middle Tennessee experience would simply be incomplete without the music that imbues so many aspects of life here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Being a Travel Writer

I love history, I actually love to research (I can't help myself), and I love fieldwork (aka touring, road tripping, and trespassing). I see public history as a way to be able to do all of those things and even earning a living while doing it. To a certain extent, I toy with the notion of becoming a travel writer. When that comes up in conversation, someone invariably says, "Seriously, how does someone get a gig like that?"

While getting a job as a historian or cultural resources manager is still at the top of my priority list, I recently dipped my metaphorical toe in the heritage travel writing pool. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has started a Heritage Travel division. To get their website off of the ground, they've been inviting people to submit reviews of historic destinations. I believe that I saw their booth at the Tennessee Governor's Conference on Tourism this past September, and I know that I saw their booth at the most recent Trust meeting in Tulsa. I simply saw that they were asking for reviews and I'm sure that I heard something at the time about a contest, but I honestly didn't give it much thought. I put in a couple of reviews of places that I like to travel to, take guests to, and places where I am a repeat visitor.

Well, a couple of weeks ago I got an email out of the blue from Heritage Travel saying that my review had won the contest. I had just gotten in from my morning walk and my morning participation in a Wii Fit study (it's nice to know people in the Recreation & Leisure Department who need test subjects), and I thought that I was dehydrated and wasn't reading the email correctly. So, I loudly proclaimed that I needed a drink, left my desk in a huff (much to the confusion of my coworkers) and got myself a glass of juice. After reading it again and having other people read it, I filled out the forms and started to come to terms with the result of writing a decent review of a heritage destination.

Heritage Travel just sent out a press release and made a post on their blog about me winning their contest. I confess, that I am the one who submitted that silly picture. I tend not to like being in front of the camera, and when I do, then I overcome my discomfort by really hamming it up. The picture is actually of me posing behind a mellowing vat at the Jack Daniel's Distillery on one of my many tours of the site (they do a corporate tour like no other). The only picture of me in Winchester happened to be one where I was wearing a bag of ice on my head (don't ask), so I opted for something fun but not too over the top (there were several other options that I disqualified).

Me soaking up the smells at Jack Daniel's Distillery.

This is what I did with my free time when attending OAH in Manhattan in 2008, but I will not repeat this pose for any press releases on the Trust's theater tour. Inappropriate for a press release, but totally fitting for a blog.

I doubt that this bit of success will swing wide the doors into the world of travel writing, but it was nice to get such a great compliment of my writing (of which I am fairly insecure and overly self critical). It was just the boost I needed to dig back into my dissertation. So at the end of October, I will be doing a tour of New York's theater heritage thanks to the National Trust. I will be fully armed with a camera and will most certainly be writing about that adventure here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mapping Context

I love maps. Always have. I have a profound aversion to using GPS devices on my road trips, much to the consternation of fellow travelers. I like using maps as a puzzle solving device and looking at the terrain to see if it matches what I'm looking at with the map. I see them as a tool for exploration and a way to provide additional context and richness to my adventures.

While I tend to complain about doing demographic and statistical research for my scholarly endeavors, once I am well into it I am stunned at the pictures those numbers create. But what I love more are seeing the ways that those numbers can create a literal picture in a graph or a map. Even when I pull numbers from something like the census, I always look for a mapping option because the full weight of the numbers doesn't hit me until I see it in picture form.

We were talking about ancestry at work the other day and so I immediately went to go print out the ancestry demographics map from the last census and we had a great time talking about different aspects of it (it's an office full of historians so we have odd tastes in entertainment). So in light of that, I thought that I would share some of my maps of choice.

For most of these maps, you can get them directly from the source: the US Census. But their website is a bit difficult to navigate, so when I'm using maps just for conversation, I tend to just google them and make sure that they look right. When I'm printing out a report, then I go get it directly from the Census (and don't forget the Historical Census Browser)...but for blogging purposes, let's go the informal route.

For a quick view of what is out there, one blog has compiled most of the really intriguing census maps in one place. What they also include, though, are the religious maps. The Glenmary Research Center (located in Nashville, TN) compiles and maps out the religious data that comes from the Census. Despite being a Catholic organization, they compile information on all faith groups.

The Bible Belt should perhaps change its name to the Baptist Belt.

Even though Glenmary creates these maps, the best place to browse them is actually from a website operated by Valparaiso University: American Ethnic Geography. There are several things that I love about this map. One thing is that you get a real feel for why religion in the American South is so different. Another is that despite Glenmary being Catholic, they are located in the middle of the Baptist heartland. When people move to Tennessee, they initially think that I am joking when I tell them that many people here don't think of Catholicism as being Christian. But after a look at this map, you can start to understand why that situation has evolved.

While they do not differentiate between the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ (they split in 1906 and now bear very little resemblance to one another), you can clearly see that out in the midst of Baptist Country, there are two Church of Christ strongholds in Tennessee. Those areas happen to be where Freed Hardeman and David Lipscomb campuses are (Church of Christ universities for those not in the know).

Now, when you look at this map and then compare it to the ancestry map, there's a whole different level of information.

Who are your people?

When I first saw this map, I was shocked at the number of people who claim German as their primary ancestry (granted, this is self reported). When you compare the two maps, you see that the German Catholics and the Hispanics account for the large number of Catholic areas in the country. The reason why I was first looking for this map, though was as part of a discussion about why Southerners tend not to celebrate their European roots (I was trying to find a Robert Burns Supper for my grandparents to attend while they visited us in Tennessee and they were shocked that there were none nearby). I'd read an article talking about how the number of people who simply identified themselves as "American" had risen with this past census and that geographically, those people tended to live in the South.

There's a whole host of reasons for this. I could posit that because the South did not experience a great deal of impact from the waves of immigration in our history, the ancestry wars that took place in other parts of the country (people tend to strongly cling to what makes them different and separate when a new group moves in and supposedly "challenges" the status quo). The real battle in the South, until recent Hispanic immigration, has been about whether you are black or you are white. Also, when you take into account the Civil War and dynamics of how people must psychologically deal with a failed revolution (Are we traitors? Are we real Americans?), I think that the need to prove your loyalty by identifying yourself as American takes on a whole new meaning (although, I wonder if "Southern" were an option what people would pick).

But when you look back at the demographics of the American South, you see that while there are a bunch of "Americans," the legacy of Deep South slavery is still present on our landscape. To further that point, this is a map that I found at the US Census website when I was compiling a marketing plan for bringing African American tourists to Tennessee sites.

The American Black Belt still exists.

I am a product of the Southern Diaspora, which consisted of African Americans and Caucasians leaving the South in droves after the Civil War to find work and lives elsewhere. My great grandfather was born on a covered wagon on the trip north (they were from East Tennessee). I am also a part of the newer trend of return migration back to the South. After several generations, many families that left the South a century ago are again returning. While this is true for Caucasians, it seems to be almost doubly true for African Americans. For the first time in a very long time, there are areas in the South that are seeing a rise in African American population. For Southern heritage tourism purposes, there are all kinds of reasons that make the African American tourist audience very attractive to marketers, not the least of which is proximity. And I don't think that you get the full impact of how strong that audience is until you see something like this demographic map.

In terms of my own life, it was a demographic map in a 2007 issue of the National Geographic that made a huge impact on my perception of daily life and my future.

Where the singles live.

I'd been complaining that it was hard to find datable men...and then I saw this. You can clearly see both Murfreesboro and Nashville on this map as dots that illustrate a preponderance of single women. Where are the single men? West Coast. Where am I hoping to get a job once I finish my degree? You guessed it: West Coast. I mean, wow! The census has a similar map to illustrate the issue.
Brokeback Mountain doesn't seem so far fetched now, does it?

The map pretty much sums it up. It also gives me hope for my prospects in other parts of the country. But there are other things to look at in evaluating other parts of the country. The way that I cope with things that worry or frighten me is to research it obsessively. One of the things that I have problems wrapping my head around is the issue of hate. I suppose that in part explains my fascination with religion (there seems to be an element of hate/hope tied into religious practices and congregates). I am a supporter and subscriber to the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report. When I want to freak myself out about the scary things that are out there, I peruse their website. In this last edition of the Intelligence Report, it came with a large fold out map that labeled the different hate groups in the country.


2008 Year in Hate

Aside from this being shocking in general, there are several ways that I can be dispassionate and analytical about it. I know that the New Jersey area has seen a spike in hate group membership in recent years and that this coincides with a rise in poverty and the loss of several of their major industries. I was a bit surprised that places in the heartland that have a reputation of harboring fringe elements did not really have a lot of hate group activity. If anything, you come away with seeing that high population areas and poverty stricken areas are where hate seems to thrive. I also noted that South Carolina (the only Southern state I have not visited) continues to struggle with a legacy of racial strife (brings to mind the words of James L. Petigru who in 1860 described his home state thusly, "South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.").

In sum total, it is sad. But it also shows the areas where we need to work harder and find better solutions.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Have You Done Enough?

This weekend's excursion was to Rock Island State Park. Three of us went and we decided to make a full weekend of it and camped at the main campground. The camping facilities were adequate, the staff was friendly, and the park offered some great scenic views. Because I of what I do, I no longer simply go and enjoy an outing like this: I analyze it. Each of us kept making little comments over the weekend about the little things that the park could do to improve their operation. Jen kept making comments like, "$20 would fix that problem." Most of what needed tweaking wouldn't require massive infrastructure changes or costs, but it would require an overhaul in state park management/staff philosophy.

Our car-side campsite featuring my new tent and our much tended campfire.

Before I get into the things that I would change to make this place more visitor friendly, let's talk about the aspects that I truly loved. The staff members that I interacted with were both knowledgeable and friendly. When we checked in, the woman at the desk asked us how many tents we had and recommended that we take a particular campsite because it was better for tent camping, and she was absolutely correct. When we were making our first attempts at making a campfire (once we got it going, we lovingly tended that thing until we left...a process I am now calling the saga of the campfire), a seasonal ranger stopped by and handed us a flier about weekend activities. He was friendly, approachable, and was able to answer other questions that we had about the park. Maintenance personnel were by every day to pick up our trash and they always said hello. Each person officially associated with the park seemed genuinely interested in quality customer service and seemed to love their job.

Not only was the staff attentive, but the buzzards took a keen interest in our campsite as well.

The hiking trails introduced us to much of the scenic natural beauty of the area. The different trails took us through woods that had a wide variety of wildflowers or out to the limestone river beds. The treks down to the river usually had you passing by one of many waterfalls that just seemed to be everywhere. It was lovely.

Megan and Jen winding their way to a small waterfall.

But here is where I start to get a bit nitpicky. The trails that led down to different spots on the river all desperately needed maintenance. We saw a similar deterioration at Fall Creek Falls State Park where a rock slide covered a section of the main trail (so much so that it took us a while to figure out exactly where the trail started again). Let me take back what I said earlier about cost...fixing those trails would take a chunk of money and labor to repair. And while the long forest trail seemed well maintained, it didn't make a lot of sense. The parking spot to start the hike seemed sort of accidental and then the path just meandered pointlessly through the woods. Perhaps a guided tour would have helped, but what about the occassional interpretive kiosk to say where we were, what we were seeing, put in a little bit of history. Greenways do this, so why not this park? We ended up coming out the other end without understanding why someone had chosen that path for us.

Footbridge that led from the historic cotton mill.

Some of the points of interest that other people remembered from years past were no longer available to us. One of those was the foot bridge that led from the historic cotton mill to the other side of the river. This park doubles as a TVA facility, which makes for an interesting setting as well. If there is water recreation involved in a site in Tennessee, then TVA is going to be there in some shape or fashion. So, in the middle of Rock Island State Park is the Great Falls Dam. While many TVA facilities used to be open for tours, in our post 9/11 world, many of them have limited public access. This site offers problems to that situation, though, because it is in the middle of a state park. The bridge from the cotton mill is closed and there are signs telling visitors that the TVA structures are not open to the public. There were some disturbing signs all over the riverbeds (that were littered with tourists) saying that you needed to leave immediately when the alarm sounded because the water level could change drastically.

View from just under the Great Falls outlook.

In general, I am in favor of not having people play around dams and water generation facilities (in the name of safety). But the large groupings of power lines often intersected hikes and the impact of TVA was ever present...but there were no attempts at telling that story on the landscape. And that seems to be a wasted opportunity. And that got me to thinking about something Dr. Spencer Crew said in our May-mester class. When evaluating sites of conscience, he would ask us if they were doing enough. And that is quickly becoming the standard by which I judge heritage tourism sites. With the natural and historic resources on this landscape, I wish that they were doing more to leverage those assets and create a more educational and dynamic visitor experience. There's only so much those helpful staff members can do and then the site needs to do some of the work on its own. Currently this park needs a more solid interpretive foundation to make the efforts of the staff more effective.

I'm a huge nut for signage and while there were several signs welcoming you to the park, but once you were inside the park, none of the signs faced the other direction. That meant that we did a lot of turning around in order to find things once we were there. That was one of the situations where just a little bit of money and a bit of foresight would make a huge improvement: print labels on both sides of the signs. Also, it was basically required for you to drive around the site. The hiking trails were scenic, but they were self contained. The roadways did not have room for pedestrian traffic and it was even a bit treacherous for car traffic in some areas. It seemed a bit silly to be so automobile dependent on a camping and hiking trip.

One of my favorite signs for the park, though, is one that I did not take a picture of (for some curious reason), and it was a large iron fence that looked like it belonged at the entrance to a western ranch. It proudly stated that you were entering "Rock Island." In addition to being the location of a state park, Rock Island is also a town. It was picturesque and had the types of shopping that campers needed. But more importantly, it had one of the smallest and cutest depots that I have ever seen. And it looked like someone was living in it!

Rock Island Depot.

And yet, even the town had a lot of untapped potential. Are any of these places doing enough? No, I think that they are coasting upon what they have. TVA has shifted its focus over the years and recreation is not one of its main missions anymore. But in terms of being an effective business, they have the opportunity to engage customers at sites like this and they are passing up that chance. The state parks are strapped for cash, but in the case of this particular park, they seem to have employees that have a strong emotional investment in their workplace (not always the case in my experience of Tennessee state parks). But without a solid intepretive foundation on the landscape, those employees are limited in what they can accomplish. And while the town has an impressive sign to welcome visitors, maybe their visitor outreach could move beyond the corner gas station (and contextualize that business by integrating it with the community which supports it).

I want them all to do more and be more thoughtful in how they approach shaping the landscape and serving their audience.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Old School Tourism

Last weekend I went to Mammoth Cave with my friend Megan. I was joking with another scholar of heritage tourism that I should take my copy of John Sears' Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century (a standard for anyone studying the history of tourism in America). We went in part to continue our hiking trend, but we also planned to drive some of the Dixie Highway and explore the fabulous roadside attractions on that route.

Our tour guide/ranger laying down the law before we entered the cave.

The Park was beautiful and we saw deer and one turkey. We did an outdoor hike to get ourselves warmed up and then we went off on the Grand Avenue Tour, which was supposed to take 4.5 hours, but I think it lasted a little longer than that. The tour was very interesting. There was just the awe inspiring aspect of the cave itself. I kept wondering to myself if this was how a worm saw the world (if they had eyes, that is). They incorporated a lot of history and even demonstrated a historic lantern that early tourists would have used. They pointed out historic graffiti, talked about cave ecology, and even talked about some of the current conservation efforts.

Rangers of various types swapping stories in the Snowball Room.

What I really liked about the tour was the level of humor. Our main guide/ranger was young, told us that he was a chemistry major and that this was his strength. If he didn't know the answer to a question, he was honest and told you that he didn't (and I pelted him with a bunch of technical and maintenance questions, so I was impressed with his amiability in light of me being such a pest). And he wove in quite a few jokes without over doing it.

Our lead ranger talking about cave ecology and trail maintenance. Note the electrical box next to him.

Analyzing Mammoth Cave as a tourist environment was a lot of fun (to me) as well. The ranger pointed out old tourist paths (from a time when people didn't have to worry about lawsuits from tourists apparently), talked about the CCC putting in paths and how they maintained them, and some of the damaged to the cave system. The paths were obviously constructed and there were a lot of stones stacked to keep people on the trail, prevent them from touching sensitive areas (ie, the gypsum), and to mask some of the electrical infrastructure. It was the electrical stuff that I was particularly interested to see. In Sears' book he talks about tourists a century ago complaining about the light shows and the kitschiness of Mammoth Cave.

Fellow tourists in the Drapery Room. You can see some of the artificial lighting in this picture as well.

While the lighting did create a sort of artificial setting, I can see how it increases the safety of tours, and it makes it possible to highlight certain features without a tour guide trying to find them in the dark with a flashlight. There was mold on some of the walls of the cave where the old halogen lamps had caused unnatural growths, but the new LED lights were supposed to stop that from continuing. The damage to the gypsum, particularly in the snowball room, was kind of disturbing, but I can see the arguments for that not being too terrible because there are plenty of places in the caves where the gypsum is not damaged and continues to grow. It does give me pause to think about balancing access with conservation.

But the artificial part that I loved the most were the bathrooms. The little restaurant set up in the Snowball Room was fun, but the bathrooms next to it with the stacked stone treatment was fabulous. The stacked stone is kind of a pet peeve of mine because all of a sudden you see it everywhere in new construction (which means it will start to look dated just any time now). Here is kind of worked because it was using natural elements to shield something unnatural. But the stacked stone doesn't really echo the cave setting, rather it echoes the human stacked stones along the pathways and around the light fixtures throughout the cave. The second bathroom still has institutional brick, but I suspect that stacked stone is in its future.

Bathroom at the Snowball Room.

The second bathroom on our hike.

The second part of our excursion was to travel to Cave City and enjoy the 20th century roadside attractions that are still there despite commerce moving away from highways to the interstates. We were both so excited that we took a lot of pictures of colossi of various sorts and several great business signs (complete with neon). Growing up in Michigan, one of my favorite parts of our regular trips to the Upper Penninsula was seeing the giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox at Castle Rock. There were also plenty of roadside colossi here, including a Dinosaur World that looked fabulous.

Megan posing with "Big Mo"

But our main reason for this excursion was to travel a bit of the old Dixie Highway (which also runs through Murfreesboro, and Megan is writing her MA thesis about how the highway reshaped Murfreesboro both aesthetically and socially...or I think that's what she is doing) and to see concrete tipis. For roadside architecture enthusiasts, the phenomenon known as "ducks" is a particularly joyful find. Ducks are any building that is designed to mimic something else. So some of these buildings look like actual ducks, or shoes, or elephants. And the ducks that people seem to love the most in Kentucky are the Wigwams. We were so excited to find it, we walked around the grounds, took pictures, went into the gift shop, Megan bought a post card. It completed our roadside tourist experience.

Concrete tipi at the Wigwams.

And while I argue for historical accuracy/authenticity in some settings...in both Mammoth Cave and Cave City, it is the carnival nature of the sites that tickles my heart. I am not saying that every place needs to be this way. It is that kind of boom and bust infrastructure that has crippled tourist economies and I am definitely in favor of most places moving towards a sustainable tourism model (as opposed to continually building fake attractions). But that doesn't mean that some of these relics from the heyday of roadside attractions can't stay around. I think that they have their place and their context. And I'm perfectly okay with celebrating them in their limited niche.

And seriously, who wouldn't want to stay in a wigwam?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Tennessee Caves from Dunbar to Bell Witch

Today I prepare to attend the last session of the last class that I will take in a very, very long time. The class has been intensive, but I have have learned a lot from Dr. Spencer Crew about how museums can truly be transformative places and how they can have a real time impact on social issues. But the class has also been mental and emotionally taxing. And my treatment for that has been to escape into physically taxing ventures (where I don't have to use my mind for nearly anything, just the body).

For the past several weekends I have been visiting state parks with my friend Megan to do some hiking and explore some of Tennessee's back roads (and roadside architecture, of which both Megan and I are big fans, which might explain why we are also both fans of the show Supernatural, particularly the motels the main characters stay in for each episode). This past weekend we did a cave hike at Dunbar Cave State Park.

Megan on a trail at Dunbar Cave State Park.

We tried to call (several times) to reserve a spot on the cave hike, but never got through, so when the weekend came, we just went on up there. We found out that while the cave hike was full, usually there were no-shows so we planned to swing back by the visitor center right before the tour. We did the two overland hikes that they offered that morning and the best part for me were the turtles that we saw. I love pointing out wildlife: I'm like a little kid that way. But the hoards of turtles in the human-made pond was quite stunning and I eventually stopped pointing them out because it was getting redundant. I did stop to mimic one that was posed with it's rear leg sticking up in the air.

Turtles were on every tree or twig sticking out of the "lake."

The landscape was lovely and there were many families out with their kids, plus lots of military families (because Dunbar Cave is at the edge of Clarksville, which is where most of the troops stationed at Fort Campbell live). There were indeed some no-shows for the tour, so we got to go on the cave hike. Our tour guide was wonderful. He was knowledgeable, funny, and engaging...despite have some real problem tourists in the group. I'm always amazed at people who can handle a group like that where there are folks who refuse to follow the rules, seem to go out of their way to make everyone else miserable, and our tour guide kept them in check as best he could, never lost his cool, and even worked hard to engage the folks who insisted on being yahoos. Ends up most of the guides at the park are interns from nearby Austin Peay. To be a guide you have to be at least a junior in college and be studying in a field related to the work at the cave (biology, history, geology, etc.).

Our intrepid tour guide at the cave entrance.

On the cave we got to see several bats, cave salamanders, some cave fish, and graffiti from throughout the ages. They did not allow photographs inside the cave, so you'll just have to take my word for what was in there (or go see it for yourself). They had graffiti from the last two centuries left by tourists, or the promoters who labelled certain rooms in order to brand them. While the caves had a long history of use, in the 1930s a company hired teenagers to quarry out deeper paths and put in some carved steps in places. Ruined some of the cave ecology that way, but now you don't have to crawl to get to some of the spaces. But the best cave art were the petroglyphs, pictographs, and mud glyphs from the Mississippian people and even as far back as the Archaic Period (9,000-10,000 years ago).

All in all, a good tour. Actually, the great tour more than made up for the difficulties we had in trying to secure a reservation the entire week prior to going.

From there, I thought we could try and check out some of the Bell Witch silliness. I'd never heard the Bell Witch story before I moved to Tennessee, but I've learned to love it for its quirkiness. There are two major versions of the Bell Witch story, but they are very different depending on the oral tradition of the Bell family in Tennessee and the one that migrated to Mississippi. Some of the other major difficulties with the stories is that they don't seem to show up until the end of the nineteenth century when the events supposedly took place in the early 191th. And the corroborating evidence they site (namely an incident with Andrew Jackson getting scared away by the ghost) doesn't actually have any corroboration (you'll find nothing about a visit there or any incident in Jackson's papers or as part of Jackson family memories). But it's a story, it's fun, people get a kick out of it.

I knew that they had a cave as part of a tour out there, but that didn't make any sense at all because even with any of the wildly divergent versions of the legend, there's no cave. But if you're going to have a story that has evolved in leaps and bounds, why not add in a cave for more recent tellings. The town of Adams, TN, is very cool with great farms (and fantastic barns) surrounding an almost picturesque town. Unfortunately, the Bell Witch site is much less inviting. The first sign we saw at the entrance, we just thought was a lot of fun...but I'm less certain now if it was really an attempt at levity.

This is how they greet visitors to the site.

They also had signs saying that this was private property and not to trespass on it. Once we got to their visitor center, we had to wait for the guy behind the counter to finish yelling at someone on a walkie-talkie before he turned to glare at us. We asked where there was to do and he informed us that nothing was free and we had to pay to go any further. He didn't offer any further information, try to engage us in any way, he just glared at us. So we left.

Their "unwelcome" center.

I'm not going to pay money (no matter how small the amount) to be treated poorly. And now that I've asked around, we are not the only people to have had rough treatment there. But it was bizarre. One of the worst customer service experiences I've had, and one of the unfriendliest site visits I've had. And in comparing that experience with the friendly and informative staff at Dunbar, it was almost more jarring. At Dunbar I was glad to pay for the tour.

But on the way back out of town, we decided to enjoy some of the roadside architecture. Someone made some good business a century ago with pressed block construction because there were multiple houses with decorative concrete block. But our favorite was a historic church that someone had heavily stuccoed so that all of the additions to the building all had the same facade treatment. There's a historic church under there...somewhere.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sustaining the King

I've had an up and down relationship with Graceland and this most recent visit continues that trend. There is no denying that Elvis was a dynamic person, had a huge impact on music and pop culture, and that he continues to be an icon of American culture. The reason why he continues to be such a mainstay, though, is because of Jack Soden, the chief executive officer of Elvis Presley Enterprises. He's been involved with the site and the larger corporate management of the Elvis brand since 1982. His background is in financial planning and he has put his considerable skills to work in building the Elvis brand and managing the legacy of Elvis' image so that they continue to build market share.

This solid financial foundation is something most historic sites would kill for. It is also something that Elvis never achieved in his lifetime (he wasn't much of one for long term financial planning). But while this aspect of the Elvis image is sitting pretty, the physical site of Graceland has loads of untapped potential that no amount of financial planning and marketing will unlock.

They are so savvy with their branding that even the renovations at the Heartbreak Hotel incorporate Elvis' personal motto of "Taking Care of Business"

For a business that makes so much money (mostly from licensing, which also builds brand strength), I don't understand why so much of Graceland is done on the cheap. Last time I was there I thought that the cheap carnival feel of the strip mall that serves as the visitor center/gift shops was sort of an appropriate approach to the Elvis' legacy. He came from a working class background and loved kitsch, so why not celebrate that? The only reason to denigrate that kind of experience is if you're being an elitist about social class, right?

Dr. Spencer Crew and class loaded into the shuttle at the visitor center on their way to Graceland.

In touring the house, I was both really impressed and really disturbed by what I saw. The audio tour is done exceptionally well. It is available in several foreign languages (and this pulls in a considerable international audience) and managed in such a way so that you could hear as little or as much as you wanted. It incorporated details about the room, memories of friends and family, and a little bit of the history of Elvis' life.

Dr. Crew's audio tour had problems at the beginning and the staff at Graceland was incredibly helpful in resolving his problems (and polite about it too).

What I was really disturbed by were their conservation practices. While I am definitely on the adaptive use end of the museum spectrum, they took things further than I was comfortable with. It looked like that rather than UV protection and inert mylar, they were using polyvinyl coverings for much of the furniture (which off-gases and destroys what it encapsulates). Now, I don't know this for a fact and Dr. Crew suggested that I ask them if that's what they are using rather than assuming...but it sure didn't look like mylar.

In addition to that (and supporting my non-conservation thesis), all of Elvis' clothing were on department store style mannequins. That's what poor museums do when they have to make the most of their resources. For an industry that is making mad cash, why are they doing things on the cheap? They can afford to buy conservation forms, so why do they still have the cheap stuff? The result for me was that rather than being delighted by the Elvis aesthetic, I thought it was a bit tawdry. I was also strongly concerned about the longevity of the material culture on site. The image of Elvis can live on in an ephemeral way, but the material culture of his life is a very important aspect to conserve.

Now, most people probably wouldn't notice those details. I know that I see museums very differently than your average visitor. I think that it would be interesting to do a survey of visitors to get their impressions of the experience and get genuine feedback on how successful the site is in telling the Elvis story and honoring his legacy. Speaking of his legacy, another aspect that disturbed me was that they nickle-and-dime you for every aspect of the experience there. This does not seem to be in keeping with Elvis' ideals. Now, they make a lot of money and I think that's the goal there, but it adds to the cheap carnival atmosphere.

The design of the site leads to a cattle corral feel as they herd you through Graceland.

Elvis' legacy of charity seems to be in contradiction to some of the practices at Graceland. They have a plan for constructing new facilities and say that they are going to construct an entirely new Graceland experience and make things more upscale. I'll withhold judgment until they roll out what that will look like. I'd really like to see some quality museum exhibits, though. What is there now is really in the style of the amateur "stuff" exhibits of volunteer museums (there I go being elitist again). They have great artifacts, but they seem content to just shove a bunch of them in a case with little or no interpretation. The labels that they do have tend to be packed with entirely too much text and try to tell way too much on a single label (also in the style of amateur exhibitry).

Fellow classmate John George looks up at the all of the artifacts that are plastered in every surface in the former racquetball court. In addition to very high light levels (a conservation issue), the visible storage exhibit technique doesn't completely work here.

I suppose that my main problem here is that the site (be it a music museum, house museum, shrine, what-have-you) does not seem very professional. They do phenomenal financial management, but have kept so focused on controlling the branding image that I think they have shut out the potential of having a real museum or allowing for some real history on the site. They do not allow scholars to have access to their archives (other corporate entities do this by incorporating restrictions that ensures genuine scholarship as opposed to salacious, tabloid misuse). They don't so educational programming. And this is a point that I think bothers me most. After a recent visit to the Experience Music Project in Seattle, I don't understand why Graceland isn't further leveraging their brand by doing something that is experiential and educational on site. They could link it to Elvis' musical roots or his evolving legacy. It could be part charity, part outreach, and also make the Elvis brand relevant in real time as opposed to in the past. It could make Elvis Presley Enterprises cutting edge as a cultural institution as opposed to being a typical corporate entity. The brand identity is sustainable, I would love to see them implement sustainable tourism (especially sustainable heritage tourism) strategies at Graceland.

Maybe that's a direction they will be heading in with this new facility that they plan to break ground on in five years. I'm hoping that they begin to staff Graceland with cutting edge and creative museum professionals so that this site can contribute to Elvis' legacy in an evolving cultural way that also promotes quality of life (instead of just bring in money for the corporation). After being incredibly critical of what they do, I want to take a moment to comment on something that I think they do very well. This site will probably always be a shrine in some respects. I love that they allow fans to leave tributes at the graveside. They take in flowers (both real and fake) and other items and place them along the perimeter of the graves until nature takes its toll on them. This allows for fans to feel a very real connection to the site and it does play into a cultural tradition of grieving. I wish that they were doing more than just this, but no matter how they change, I hope that they always keep this part of their operation.

In the meditation garden, visitors get to honor the dead and even donate tributes of flowers and nicknacks that the staff then place around the Presley family graves.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Transformative Museums

I am doing a May-mester course with Dr. Spencer Crew on issues of conscience, commemoration, and memory at museums and historic sites. Because the course is a semester's worth of work in just 2.5 weeks, everything is very intensive. We're looking at sites that deal with strong emotional issues and reading up on lots of theory, and that amounts to exhaustion on a number of levels.

Part of my mental exhaustion is that I am honestly rethinking the purpose and mission of historic sites, what they can accomplish, and what areas of culture they should be a part of. As my brain is literally rewiring itself, I find that I am having trouble forming cohesive sentences and yet I am making numerous connections within my head. It is making me consider how the brain works and the type of research that a friend of mine is doing at Michigan State in psycho-linguistics.

For the class we did a two-day visit to Memphis to experience the National Civil Rights Museum and Graceland as places that are involved in commemoration and memory. I have been to both sites a number of times, but with the context of this class I found an entirely new way of looking at what they do. The result ultimately was that my opinion of the NCRM went up and my opinion of Graceland went way down.

Dr. Crew and class at the NCRM

I've always had problems with the sheer amount of text that is in the exhibits of the NCRM. On the one hand, I think that they are trying to cover too much of the history of the Civil Rights movement, on the other hand, I'm disappointed in some of the things that they leave out (there's no pleasing historians, is there?). But I have always liked that rather than just being a shrine to MLK, that they strive to educate people about the movement he was a part of and what the legacy of that movement is. Now, they do have a shrine to MLK. There is the exterior memorial where he was shot that anyone can see as they pass by, and inside they have a viewing area where you can look at the rooms as they would have looked when MLK died.

The museum itself is packed full of information, but going into the shrine with all of that context makes seeing where MLK was all the more powerful. It is chilling and stirring every time I go. A bedroom is a place of intimacy and security, and when he stepped out of those doors and back out into the world, he was shot. What I think truly completes the experience is that the museum purchased and interpreted the boarding house where James Earl Ray stayed and the assassin took his shot. As a kind of parallel, they preserved the room where Ray stayed and the bathroom that they know was where the assassin shot MLK from. You can stand right next to that and look out onto the balcony where the exterior shrine to MLK is. Purely chilling.

Fellow classmate Angela Smith visiting with infamous protester Jacqueline Smith (no relation to one another)

But what I see as the most telling part of the NCRM's integrity is that they don't run away from controversy. In that boarding house they address all of the conspiracy theories about MLK's death and whether or not Ray was the real assassin. They also see the protestor who is at the entrance to the museum as part of the story of the site. They welcome controversy and dissent and see themselves as a place for dialogue. And that is part of their larger mission as a member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. Their programming seems to be very much in line with fellow coalition member Monte Sole in Italy.

We asked the NCRM staff tough questions and they welcomed them. They also spoke of how they want to use their legacy to expand their international programming and be activists in the world community to support social justice. And they have a plan to do that.

While I had been skeptical about museums as transformative institutions, I think that the NCRM does exactly that. They make a place for commemoration and sharing of memories, but then they take a step beyond that to spur themselves and others into action. This, of course, just encourages me further down the path of the dreaded label "activist historian."

I'll tackle Graceland tomorrow, which is a site that does commemoration well, but doesn't seem to have even considered the full potential of what their site could offer.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Having Fun with History

I have taken quite the hiatus from blogging, but that is because I was running the academic gauntlet and getting some of the final hurdles of my academic career out of the way. I finished up the Professional Residency Colloquium where we presented the work products from our residency (mine with the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development), how this fed into our dissertations, and how all of our work up to this point has shaped us as professionals. In true gauntlet form, I survived, but came out feeling a bit bruised after class.

The more positive note was defending my professional portfolio and my dissertation proposal to my doctoral committee. Where the class was supposed to be a practice/dry run of this event, the actual defense was much more enjoyable than the classroom experience. We basically had a conversation. I talked through some of my work products, discussed how my actual work with heritage tourism on a state level was reshaping how I thought of history and community development, and also my thoughts on adaptive reuse.

The discussion was incredibly helpful. I felt like I was genuinely treated like a colleague and they were all providing insightful feedback about my work, where it could head, and some challenges that I needed to consider. In part it helps that I've selected quality people for my committee. But I also can't help but think that i set the tone with how I approached my committee for the defense.

Rather than this being a stiffly formal affair, complete with Powerpoint (don't get me wrong, Powerpoint has its place and can be very helpful if people use it appropriately). But given a choice, I would much rather have a conversation than participate in a rigid structure. I did not want to lecture to my committee or then do the more traditional question and answer format where I literally defend my positions in a debate style (we did this for my orals, and I see the place of it there and I can do that type of thing if the situation calls for it).

I came armed with food (all of my defenses or qualifying exams, even for my MA, have involved me bringing food of some sort for the committee) and wearing a new tshirt that I hoped would set the tone:


The shirt is from BustedTees and it commemorates an early computer game that I loved to play in elementary school called The Oregon Trail. We had one computer for several classrooms and it was a big deal to be able to get computer time. We would play the computer, usually this game, in teams of two or three. I think that games like this helped me engage me in a creative way as a child and instilled an interest in history. It was also a lot of fun (you got to shoot bears and try to navigate a river) and we thought that it was hilarious to leave behind silly inscriptions on tombstones for "fallen" classmates. The most common way to die in the game was from dysentery and this still sticks out in my mind and of anyone who sees my tshirt and remembers that game.

I told my committee that I was wearing this shirt in honor of the long legacy of American road trips and the perils therein. We all got a good laugh out of it. And while I wanted to set a tone of friendliness and levity, I was also trying to evoke a very personal connection to history through my nostalgia for this game. I have a number of shirts from Vintage Roadside (supporters of the National Trust for Historic Preservation) and while some of them fit in with my love of history and my sense of humor (I wear my Slick Chick Drive-In shirt at least once a week), none of them spoke to my personal experience of history (they commemorate a roadside heritage that I love but was not around to directly experience myself).

But the Oregon Trail shirt also played into one of my larger points about how I see history: history can be fun. There are topics that call for contemplation and respect, I'll grant you that. But history doesn't have to be boring or overly serious. I think that it is possible for history to be fun without being the dreaded "edutainment" that scholars look down their nose at. I'm holding to the idea that I can be passionate about history while also bringing my quirky sense of humor to many of the subjects that I deal with. And I think that certainly has a place in the world of heritage tourism. History can have integrity while also being exciting and fun.