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  • Selling the Sights: The Invention of the Tourist in American Culture by Will B. Mackintosh
  • Joanna Cohen (bio)
Selling the Sights: The Invention of the Tourist in American Culture. By Will B. Mackintosh. (New York: New York University Press, 2019. Pp. 244. Cloth, $35.00.)

Who among us has not occasionally sneered at a tourist? Perhaps it was their attire or the incessant waving of selfie sticks that did it? Or maybe the speed with which they tramped around a cathedral, through a gallery, or past a waterfall that triggered our contempt? As Will B. Mackintosh points out in his new book, scholars have often traced the roots of such condescension back to Daniel Boorstin's excoriating essay, "From Traveller to Tourist: The Lost Art of Travel," written in 1961. But, as Mackintosh demonstrates with clarity, this declension narrative is not the starting point for the powerful dichotomy between tourism and travel. Instead, for Americans, this distinction has its origins in the 1820s and the emergence of the national market economy. Its longevity, Mackintosh argues convincingly, arises from the fact that it was a dichotomy that allowed, and continues to allow, Americans a place from which they can critique and reconstitute the culture of capitalism.

In this smart and lively book, Mackintosh argues that it was the commodification of experiences such as travel that created the idea of the tourist, as the seeker of pre-packaged pleasure. Once the tourist was established as a recognizable figure, changing attitudes toward tourists helped the inhabitants of the trans-Atlantic world to establish important ideas about authenticity in the commercial realm and decide what constituted a worthwhile pursuit in modern life. By the time of the Civil War these ideas were functioning as powerful markers of the market's edge. Thus, the invention of the tourist helped Americans (and others) create and test the boundaries of the capitalist marketplace in the early republic, and as Boorstin's essay suggests, it is a tool they have been using ever since.

Selling the Sights begins by charting the commodification of travel and its transformation into a tourist experience. Using print culture as the [End Page 580] primary point of departure, Mackintosh starts by examining how knowledge about geography and travel itself changed, from an Enlightenment-style cataloguing of terrain to the boosterish descriptions of sights and places designed to be experienced by a distinct set of commercially created visitors. In the second chapter, Mackintosh details a contemporaneous process, where journeys went from something produced by those who made their way from place to place to a commodity, characterized by the listings of a pre-priced, pre-packaged journey that held no surprises or deviations for the traveler. The third chapter details the creation of "sights" themselves. Here he explores how local boosters, especially in upstate New York and Virginia, transformed their localities into commodified experiences, enticing tourists with promises of spa towns and sites of natural beauty.

All these chapters are a rich co-mingling of cultural, social, and economic history. The second chapter is particularly fascinating for the detail of experience it offers, drawing on individual accounts written by travelers across the nineteenth century. The best of these examples compares one individual's diverging experience of journeys undertaken first in 1815 and then in 1844, thus conjuring up the material, cultural, and emotional differences in travel that characterized the different periods. Mackintosh contrasts the improvisations and uncertainties of travel of the 1810s with the certainties of the 1840s, where, as he neatly puts it, the traveler remembered the trip not by its geography but via the tickets purchased for the separate legs of the journey (67). Such analysis evokes the rich and important differences that the transportation revolution had on individual lives. The success of these three chapters is also in the way they demonstrate how the market did not change experiences alone but also hopes, imaginings, and memories. The expectation of certainty and the anticipation of a uniform experience when it came to travel were not just a result of structural shifts; they were cultural productions of the marketplace.

This argument is central to the book's broader intervention into the...


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