- More Than Just Inclusion:Race, Memory, and Twenty-First Century Cultural Industries
How can we bring into visibility the erased or repressed histories and memories of enslavement and racialized oppression in the United States? And more specifically, how can we do so within the framework of what Bella Dicks has termed “visitability”—the ever more expansive set of mechanisms designed to make places, people, and pasts available for cultural consumption?1 This is of course a basic question—perhaps the basic question—for tourism studies in general: what is the relationship between what is toured and those who are doing the displaying and experiencing, and what happens when these relationships are shaped by existing inequalities and hierarchies? Several recent works have addressed this pair of questions, suggesting that a reexamination of these pasts themselves is being wedded in useful ways to the study and practice of commemoration and representation as reflected in the still quickly growing literature on public memory, public history, and tourism.2 With Roger Aden’s rhetorically focused account of the controversy over a site of slaveholding in an iconic national park in Philadelphia and Lynnell Thomas’s exploration of how long-standing racialized tropes persist in tourist productions in New Orleans, we have two new city-specific studies that show us the complexities of analyzing these projects and the cultural, political, and economic conditions in which they are embedded.
Aden’s book chronicles the contestation and negotiation that followed the 2002 publication of research documenting the presence of enslaved Africans [End Page 815] in George Washington’s household during the time when the first president was living in what was then the national capital of Philadelphia. The surviving remnants of the original executive mansion had been demolished in 1951 when the three-acre Independence National Historical Park (established in 1948) was being expanded into today’s fifty-five-acre urban plaza, known as Independence Mall. But the revelation of its location and stunningly disjunctive history made it a topic of heated public debate, fueled partly by community memories of African American displacement during the original construction of the mall. The fact that the President’s House bombshell dropped during another makeover of the plaza sharpened the debate; a $12.9 million center dedicated to housing and interpreting the Liberty Bell was about to be built just feet away from where Washington’s enslaved Africans had lived and worked. Even more egregiously at odds with the exceptionalist narrative about American freedom, research showed that Washington had knowingly cycled his servants back to his Virginia plantation to avoid the laws that would have freed them after six months’ residence in Pennsylvania. The dissonance between the newly exposed past and the shiny new shrine to liberty was too great to survive park administrators’ initial attempts to contain it, leading to a vigorous public debate, an archaeological excavation of the site, and an extended design process that produced today’s interpretive installation: a re-creation of the outline of the house, with considerable architectural and interpretive emphasis on the lives and work of the enslaved.
Aden’s concern here is with the content of the discursive processes throughout the controversy. He draws on documentary and ethnographic materials—media coverage, internal documents from the National Park Service, plans and designs and the public commentary on them, interviews and observations conducted with key participants and at the completed site itself. He also draws on an analytic tool kit that includes a wide range of theorists writing about collective memory, public history and memorialization, place and place making, rhetoric and discourse. A central component of his theoretical approach comes from Michael Warner’s conception of publics as entities that are called into being through the act of being addressed discursively, an idea around which Aden structures his lengthy discussion...