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preface and acknowledgments This book had its inception when, after my last research project, I returned to San Antonio, Texas, to begin working on questions of tourism, culture, and the public sphere. After several days of talking to people, it quickly became apparent that the Alamo was not only the most visited site in the city, much less the state of Texas, but also a place that figured large in the local and national imagination. But this public understanding was not always productive or agreed on. Having grown up, literally, in the Alamo’s shadow, I was quite aware of the visceral reaction of many who wander through this old mission’s stone walls. I knew the reasons for my own ambivalence to the Alamo, but what of others? Were the stories and legends, films and folklore, that shaped the public cultural memory of this place so potent that they prescribed all understanding of the past? Had any notion of a nonfictitious past been lost to the various genres of public culture that construed the cultural memory of the Alamo? But what was a nonfictitious past? A true past? My intellectual training told me that “the past” was a messy assemblage of dates, events, chronologies, and stories and any effort to know it definitively spoke more to the politics of knowing than to knowledge itself. And yet I knew the stories I heard and grew up with were “wrong.” It is here that I began to rethink my project, not under the rubric of historical “truth” and “facts” of the past, but through the “effects” these stories had as they circulated through multiple locations and sites of public culture . Narratives of the past, known as history, memory, legend, or myth, circulate and swirl, as my friend and colleague Katie Stewart describes, through a wide array of sites, locations, and tellings. They are present in traditional genres and multimedia forms; we experience them as historical tales at sites of public history, from Hollywood productions, stories ix 00A-T2008-FM 2/25/02 11:41 AM Page ix told late at night around a table of dominoes, or the podiums of lecture halls across college campuses. Stories of the past envelop us: they inscribe our present and shape our future; stories of the past are linked to the formation of selves and others in a complex tapestry of textured narratives. Are they real? Perhaps. Are they true? Who can know. But it is their real effects that concern me. Myth or history, cultural memory or public history , stories of the past track through us and over us as they provide narrative representations and public imaginaries that help us to make our way through the world. For this reason, and perhaps others, I could not let go of the stories, memories, legends, and histories of the Alamo. These were the most influential stories told about “Texans” and “Mexicans,” stories whose tellings had effectively shaped daily life and public interactions between these two groups for years. And yet little was known about “how” or “why” such tellings traced the way they did. The pages that follow are my attempt to track these traces. Most questions, from the simple to the more complex, are never investigated in a vacuum but through the give-and-take of research, inquiry, presentations , lectures, debate, and writing. This could not be more true for this book. It started on the shores of Lake Mendota at the University of Wisconsin and comes to completion in the shadows of the tower at the University of Texas. In between, friends, colleagues, students, family members, and others who have heard various parts of what is written here have all contributed in some measure. At the University of Wisconsin, Kevin Bohrer, Geoff Bradshaw, Kirstin Erickson, Jim Escalante, Ben Márquez, Ruben Medina, María Moreno, Peter Nabokov, Kirin Narayan, Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Francisco Scarano, Karen Strier, Harry West, and Neil Whitehead heard and responded to earlier versions of this book. While at Wisconsin I also had the pleasure of spending a semester at the Institute for Research in the Humanities. There I want to thank Paul Boyer, Susan Stanford Friedman , Gordon Hutner, Rudy Koshar, Thongchai Winichakul, and my other institute colleagues for creating a supportive and stimulating research environment. Midway through this book, I returned to the University of Texas, where I found a cohort of new friends and colleagues who have been invaluable to this project. First, at the...


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