‘Cultural Heritage and the Tourism Industry’ Looks at How Visitors Impact Destinations

Trinity Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies Hosts Globe-Spanning Panel Discussion

Hartford, Connecticut, February 24, 2016 – Every day we see thousands of pictures taken in front of great monuments, ranging from selfies snapped by friends abroad to advertisements for travel companies. And even though a picture says a thousand words, there are many things left unsaid about the history behind the culture that created these monuments, and many stories and meanings that go forgotten.

A February 8 Common Hour workshop at Trinity College called “Cultural Heritage and the Tourism Industry” sought to explore these themes. The panelists involved in this discussion were: Dario A. Euraque, professor of history and international studies; Jen Jack Gieseking, assistant professor of American studies; and Beth E. Notar, associate professor of anthropology. The event was moderated by Martha K. Risser, associate professor of classics, and was sponsored by the Trinity Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies (TIIS), which encourages interdisciplinary dialogue outside of the classroom. 

Gieseking’s presentation, “From Buying In, To Selling Out, To Sold Out,” examined contemporary LGBTQ history and the ways that tourism has formed key spaces of the LGBTQ community’s everyday life and economies. The professor also offered critical reflections on changes that occur when a site becomes a tourist destination. Gieseking is part of the “Rainbow Heritage Network,” an organization composed of architects, preservationists, scholars, and activists who seek to support the National Park Services LGBTQ Monument initiative.

Notar’s presentation, “What Can We Do for Shaunglang, Dali, Yunnan, China?” focused on tourism in an ethnic minority area of southwest China. She explained that what was once promoted as an “off the beaten path” location is now on the cusp of becoming a super highway for tourists to visit scenic villages, catering to international tastes. Notar said that Dali's "Foreigner Street" has ironically become a tourist destination for Chinese tourists who observe the foreign backpackers, themselves “searching for Shangri-La.”

Euraque recounted his experiences living in Honduras. He was there during a military coup that completely changed the national government. While in Honduras, Euraque served as the director of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology & History between 2006 and 2009. He worked to maintain the customs of the Maya – specifically to keep their culture out of the hands of tourism, despite the popular brand called Maya Water. “I worked to promote a cultural policy not dominated by a tourist version of Mayan culture, current and ancient,” Euraque said.

In these three talks, the professors encouraged students to be more aware of the culture around them from an interdisciplinary point of view, and to understand the social, historical, and cultural changes tourists can have on their destinations.

Upcoming TIIS talks include “The Art and (Neuro)Science of Mysticism” on March 31 and “Using the Arts to Heal Brain Disorders” on April 14.

Written by Ursula Paige Granirer ’17