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Commemorative Surrogation and the American South's Changing Heritage Landscape

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The past two decades have witnessed momentous changes on the American South's heritage landscape. First, and most dramatically, ascendant civil rights museums have established themselves as bona fide heritage attractions. Second, and more subtly, a nascent movement on the part of plantation house museums is afoot to engage with the lives and labour of enslaved African Americans. The two trends are interrelated and the result is a regional heritage landscape that is more attuned to the dynamics of racial oppression than at any time in the past. Geographers and other tourism researchers have begun to document and analyse these changes, seeking to better understand the motives and implications that are reworking the region's heritage scene. The task remains, however, to develop a more nuanced understanding of audience reactions to the evolving content of southern heritage tourism. Drawn from two extent surveys of visitors to civil rights museums and a plantation museum, this article uses the concept of commemorative surrogation to interpret audience evaluations in order to better understand visitors’ assessment of the changing landscape of southern heritage tourism. Results of the analysis suggest that whereas concerns over deficient surrogation are held by visitors at both civil rights and plantation museums, charges of excessive surrogation are limited to civil rights museums. The implication for the cultural landscape is a potentially revived, searching assessment of the region's past.

Keywords: African American; American South; civil rights; commemoration; heritage tourism; landscape; monument; museum; plantation; surrogation

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14616688.2012.699091

Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 2: Department of Political Science, International Development and International Affairs, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA 3: Department of Geosciences, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, USA

Publication date: August 1, 2013

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