2020-2021 Colloquium Series

The Tourism Studies Working Group is pleased to present


Bert Gordon, Professor Emeritus
History, Mills College

Friday, September 25, 4PM-6PM
Zoom Link [click here to enter the webinar]

Across the world today, from the United States to England to Sénégal, the meanings and durability of monuments are being called into question, sometimes violently. Mitch Landrieu, former Mayor of New Orleans, stated: "Monuments represent a view of the past." Indeed, visiting monuments is, in a sense, touring the past. Our images of the past are informed by our present-day perspectives, which in turn are influenced by our perceptions of the past.

Monuments, memory, and tourism are three sides of a dynamic process whereby people seek to understand and internalize their social, political, and cultural identities in a world of continual historical change. The values we honor and how we commemorate or memorialize them, in other words, how we preserve and/or change our memories of them from one generation to the next, are reflected in the patterns of tourist visits to sites deemed "monuments." These, in turn, help shape our present-day understandings of the past. Intertwined in this process are our evolving political values.

The reciprocal influences of tourism and memory are drivers in the designation of historical monuments, amplified since 1972 by UNESCO's designations of "world heritage sites" program. France's Caisse nationale des monuments historiques et des sites [CNMHS, National Fund for Historical Monuments and Sites], for example, in 1994 counted some 14,000 buildings and sites as historical monuments. A survey in the United States by Longwoods International, a tourism consulting company, reported some 34 percent of Americans planning to visit either a monument or state or national park during the summer of 2020, despite recent controversies and the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.

Monuments may be erected specifically for remembrance, as the Oxford English Dictionary notes, relating the history of the term back to sepulchers built to remember the dead. The ancient Egyptian pyramids are an example. Some sites, such as the Great Wall in China, constructed as a network of defensive fortifications, become monuments by their commemoration through time, augmented by the flow of millions of tourists over the decades, together with the economic benefits they bring to their local regions. As monuments are remembered, their images and significations may change, often influenced by shifting political values. They may be glorified, as in the case of the Washington Monument in the United States, or vilified, as with monuments built to honor the Confederate forces of the American Civil War and now being challenged by civil rights advocates. With memory shifting over time, monuments may see their immediacy dimmed, for example the decline in tourist visitors to Lenin's tomb in Moscow in recent decades. The memorialization of monuments may also be affected by the ravages of time as with Oradour-sur-Glane, a French village of some 600 people who in 1944 were massacred by the SS. The French authorities sought to preserve the destroyed town as a monument exactly as it had been at the time of the massacre but found that the forces of nature alter the site, raising the question of what type of intervention might best recall the tragedy.

Another instance of changing memory images through monuments is Memento Park in Budapest, where statues from Hungary's Communist years are collected and exhibited. Described on its website as a "Tourist destination/Artistic action ground/Educational centre," the park contains statues from Hungary's Communist years, whose meanings have shifted since the end of Communism there. In addition to the changing memory of the statues, the park's role as a tourist destination, together with the implied economic benefits, is also made clear on the website. This presentation builds upon the studies of cultural memory by Maurice Halbwachs and Pierre Nora by examining the process whereby monuments in their various forms are memorialized. Emphasis is placed on the role played by tourism as an important driver in the designation of historical monuments, a process enhanced by literature such as Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831), which helped popularize the cathedral, evidenced in the outpouring of support around the world for its reconstruction following the fire of April 2019. Physical mementos and tourist guidebooks, published by Baedeker and Michelin, plus more recent web sites, all contribute to the ways in which monuments are remembered as do films, such as Darryl Zanuck's "The Longest Day" (1962) and Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) for the 1944 Normandy battle sites. All of these manifestations of monuments, memory, and tourism taken together can shed significant light on how people construct their identity across cultures in history.

Speaker Bio:
Bert Gordon, Professor Emeritus of History at Mills College, is the author of War Tourism: Second World War France from Defeat and Occupation to the Creation of Heritage (Cornell University Press, 2018), which focuses on the linkages between tourism and war, highlighting the stories of the German occupation soldiers who, in William Shirer's words, behaved like tourists in occupied Paris. His book chapter, "Monuments and Memorialization," will be published in Michael Di Giovine, Josep-Maria Garcia Fuentes, and Teresita Majewski, eds., Handbook on Heritage and Tourism (Routledge, 2021). Gordon's recent work on tourism and war includes "Toward a Deeper Understanding of History: War, Tourism, and their Links - The Case of the First World War," Via [Online], 16 (2019); and "'To Live in France': The Confluence of Tourism, Memory, Migration and War," in Sabine Marschall, ed., Memory, Migration and Travel (Routledge, 2018).

He also co-edited "Food and France: What Food Studies Can Teach Us about History," for French Historical Studies (2015), and has written on the history of chocolate, the 1968 revolts in France, and the history of Vichy as a spa town. More locally, he wrote the "Introduction" to Franklina C. Gray, The Grand Tour, published by the Camron-Stanford House Museum in Oakland (2019). His books, The Historical Dictionary of World War II France and Collaborationism in France during the Second World War, were published in 1998 and 1980, respectively. For the latter, he interviewed wartime Parisian pro-German political figures, officials in the Vichy government, and French volunteers who fought in the Waffen-SS against the Soviets.

Gordon has been Co-Editor of H-Travel, affiliated with the H-Net Digital Network, since 2003; and has been General Secretary of the International Commission for the History of Travel and Tourism since 2013. He has been a member of the Tourism Studies Working Group (University of California, Berkeley) since 2008.

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