The American Historical Imaginary: Contested Narratives of the Past in Mass Culture

dc.creatorCaroline Guthrie
dc.descriptionThis dissertation examines mass culture sites that present fictionalized and counterfactual depictions of the past as entertainment for consumers. I seek to understand these spaces in terms of their relation to the historical imaginary, which I am describing as shared cultural understanding of the dominant narratives of "history" in the United States that is continuously shaped through depictions and discourses about the past in entertainment, education, and politics. The primary cultural function of the historical imaginary is the maintenance and defense of hegemonic national identity, and as such it is highly resistant to intervention through even the most rigorous historical scholarship. To uncover these dynamics, I use discourse and textual analysis, as they have been mobilized by visual culture studies, to examine the American history themed sections of the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, recent television series which center around time-travel, and alternate history narratives of film and television. The Magic Kingdom works to erase conflict from the past to present a narrative of American exceptionalism as a forgone conclusion, while using the physical experience of the park’s attractions to position viewers as passive or helpless in their experience of Disney "history." Time travel series portray historians’ interventions into the past as irresponsible, and offer the advantages of the present moment as sufficient compensation for any wrongs of history. However, alternate history narratives use their departures from the viewers’ accepted narratives to foster understanding of the fact that past and current events are not inevitabilities, providing a potentially useful model for using mass cultural depictions of history to re-imagine the past as a dynamic space of possibility.
dc.titleThe American Historical Imaginary: Contested Narratives of the Past in Mass Culture Studies Mason University


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