Mythic Frontiers:
Remembering, Forgetting, and Profiting with Cultural Heritage Tourism

Daniel R. Maher

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“Calls for a transformation in the way cultural heritage sites present the history of the American West—one that reflects a broader, more complicated, and inclusive vision of the past. . . . An engaging and welcome addition to the field.”—Journal of Anthropological Research
 
“Drops the ‘protective cloak of heritage’ from the thousands of historical sites that profit from celebrating American manifest destiny. . . . From start to finish, Maher pairs the frontier complex and reality in ways that move beyond myth busting and instead ties both to changes in national discourse and the development of the tourist economy in the West.”—American Indian Quarterly  
 
“An impressive study. . . . Warns of the dangers of reformulating frontier history into ‘mythic’ tales that carry forth historical inaccuracies and varieties of power inequality.”—Journal of American Folklore  
 
“An important contribution to cultural heritage studies.”—Journal of Folklore Research  
 
“Contributes meaningfully to the ongoing discussion of how Americans display and consume their complicated past.”—Journal of Southern History  
 
“A fascinating and finely detailed examination of the construction and perpetuation of . . . the ‘frontier complex’ at the Fort Smith, Arkansas historic site.”—Western Historical Quarterly
 
“Engagingly written. . . . Maher’s study is rigorous and especially useful.”—Journal of Tourism History
 
"Maher explores the development of the Frontier Complex as he deconstructs the frontier myth in the context of manifest destiny, American exceptionalism, and white male privilege. A very significant contribution to our understanding of how and why heritage sites reinforce privilege."—Frederick H. Smith, author of The Archaeology of Alcohol and Drinking

"Peels back the layer of dime westerns and True Grit films to show how their mythologies are made material. You'll never experience a 'heritage site' the same way again."—Christine Bold, author of The Frontier Club: Popular Westerns and Cultural Power, 1880-1924
 
The history of the Wild West has long been fictionalized in novels, films, and television shows. Catering to these popular representations, towns across America have created tourist sites connecting such tales with historical monuments. Yet these attractions stray from known histories in favor of the embellished past visitors expect to see and serve to craft a cultural memory that reinforces contemporary ideologies.
 
In Mythic Frontiers, Daniel Maher illustrates how aggrandized versions of the past, especially those of the "American frontier," have been used to turn a profit. These imagined historical sites have effectively silenced the violent, oppressive, colonizing forces of manifest destiny and elevated principal architects of it to mythic heights. Examining the frontier complex in Fort Smith, Arkansas—where visitors are greeted at a restored brothel and the reconstructed courtroom and gallows of "Hanging Judge" Isaac Parker feature prominently—Maher warns that creating a popular tourist narrative and disconnecting cultural heritage tourism from history minimizes the devastating consequences of imperialism, racism, and sexism and relegitimizes the privilege bestowed upon white men.

Daniel R. Maher is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
 
A volume in the series Cultural Heritage Studies, edited by Paul A. Shackel
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An engaging dialogue about the Fort Smith site, about the understanding of American frontier history, and ultimately, about how historical events and perceptions are adapted for current popular consumption.
--Illinois State University News

An interesting case study with good insights into some of the challenges that relying on cultural heritage tourism entails.
--Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Contributes meaningfully to the ongoing discussion of how Americans display and consume their complicated past.
--Journal of Southern History

Drops the "protective cloak of heritage" from the thousands of historical sites that profit from celebrating American manifest destiny. . . . From start to finish, Maher pairs the frontier complex and reality in ways that move beyond myth busting and instead ties both to changes in national discourse and the development of the tourist economy in the West.
--American Indian Quarterly

A fascinating and finely detailed examination of the construction and perpetuation of . . . the "frontier complex" at the Fort Smith, Arkansas historic site.
--Western Historical Quarterly

Warns of the dangers of reformulating frontier history into “mythic” tales that carry forth historical inaccuracies and varieties of power inequality. . . . One can only wish for makers and consumers of frontier heritage tourism to also take Mythic Frontiers to heart.
--Journal of American Folklore

An engaging and welcome addition to the field.
--Journal of Anthropological Research

Maher convincingly shows that elements of the frontier complex are enacted in the process of developing the interpretation of a heritage site as well as through watching western movies, playing cowboy and Indian, reenacting the past through living history events, and simply visiting a heritage site. . . . An important contribution to cultural heritage studies.
--Journal of Folklore Research

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