Shaping Contemporary Social Memories of the American West at Little House Tourist Sites

Authors: Kimberly Johnson Maier*, Oklahoma State University
Topics: Tourism Geography, Gender
Keywords: tourism, historical fiction, American West, Little House book series
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Virginia B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Historical fiction provides a link between the past and present through storytelling, where children and adults learn about the significance of people and places. Geography can foster important understandings of how these historical and spatial narratives are interpreted in the present. While some geographers focus on the link between historical fiction and tourism, a lacuna exists in regards to the Little House book series and landscapes presented at various Little House tourist sites. The Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, chronicles the experiences of the Ingalls family as they move west from Wisconsin to Dakota Territory during the mid to late 1800s. In addition, the series has provided an avenue for reflecting and constituting social memory of the American West. I collected 290 surveys completed by tourists at the 2017 Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant in DeSmet, South Dakota. In this paper, I address how participants felt about visiting and interacting with the landscape as well as their perceptions/memories concerning how the book is represented through the tourist site. The results of these surveys indicate that most visitors’ expectations were fulfilled, while very few visitors provided critical perspectives in regards to socio-cultural identities, such as race and gender. By accepting this landscape as a didactic site, tourists reinforce historical, predominately white, male narratives of the American West. Additionally, tourists also noted the importance of the landscape (physical and material) in bringing the literature to life.

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