- Down South in/of Dixie: Rethinking the Tourist South
In the last decade, tourism has matured as a historical subfield. It has expanded geographically, temporally, and thematically and has even marked perhaps its first major historiographical watershed—a seeming sign of maturity—as historians in the last fifteen years have either extended or challenged Hal Rothman’s implication of tourism as an erosive force in Devil’s Bargains (1998). Four recent books consider tourism in various parts of the South as it relates to the region, the nation, and the Americas more broadly. The first two books refine our understanding of how tourism reworked Southern communities and Southern heritage, while the second two recover conceptions held by U.S. citizens more than a century ago to show how these ideas enabled promoters to recast tropical or semitropical places as ideal leisure destinations without abandoning the comfort, safety, and virtue of domestic society. Each of the books in different ways also examines the complex interplay of race, class, and geography. [End Page 116]
Destination Dixie, an anthology edited by Karen L. Cox, interprets struggles over meanings of the past at thirteen Southern destinations ranging from individual heritage sites to cities. One might question the need for another collection of essays about Southern tourism and depictions of history at Southern destinations. After all, no fewer than a half dozen such works have appeared since W. Fitzhugh Brundage, Where These Memories Grow (2000). Yet Cox’s essayists rethink the tourist South by showing not only stereotypes purveyed by boosters and consumed by willing tourists but also the varying extents to which social change, evolving historical scholarship, and changing consumer demands supplanted older narratives and imagery with newer ones. In the spirit of James Loewen’s Lies Across America (1999), but with only minimal topical overlap and greater contextualization that comes with examining fewer sites, these essays shed light on a number of important tourist destinations that previously received little if any scholarly attention. Some contributors make huge temporal jumps that leave unanswered questions, but overall, Destination Dixie ably explores the challenges of injecting public history informed by modern scholarship into heritage sites where gatekeepers and visitors do not always embrace it.
The anthology includes four sections (“People & Places,” “Race & Slavery,” “War & Remembrance,” and “Landscape & Memory”), but these categories are hardly mutually exclusive. In the first section, essays on the homes and hometowns of four iconic figures explain and critique how their respective communities regarded their legacy. Locals and visitors in Hannibal, Missouri, were slow to abandon the idea of the town as living proxy for Mark Twain’s fictional St. Petersburg. Conversely, Olympian Jesse Owens’ Alabama hometown never fully embraced its most famous son. In between, the Margaret Mitchell House and the Elvis Presley Museum failed to reconcile the presentation of race and class, leaving the former unable to account for how Mitchell could have written a racist novel and demonstrated progressive racial thinking, and the latter too blinded by “The King’s” success to grapple with the impoverished community that produced him. The second section reveals a similar difficulty in contextualizing the past at other Southern destinations. Somerset Place State Historic Site bet its future on a moonlight-and-magnolias version of North Carolina’s antebellum history, only incorporating black history in response to sagging visitation. While Charleston addressed African American history through accretions in its tour...