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Morganstern, Donna. “The Sociocultural Impact of Portraying the Past: Old Tucson and Plimoth Plantation.” Visitor Studies 7(1) (1995): 88-98.


Themed environments have profound potential to influence visitors and provide insight into human information processing, motivation, and culture. Examples for this discussion come from research at two themed environments that embody American cultural myths: Old Tucson, an old west theme park near Tucson, Arizona; and Plimouth Plantation, a re-created1621 Pilgrim Village, Wampanoag homesite, and Mayflower replica, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Both portray mythic past with current emotional consequence, function as pilgrimage sites for reaffirming the culture’s spiritual and philosophical teachings, and are forced to compete aggressively for the tourist dollar. Examples from two Old Tucson studies and one Plimouth Plantation research project support hypotheses that themed environments influence visitors’ conceptions of the past and attitudes toward the future, and that visitors perceive the past as a function of their own expectations and beliefs.

In one study, experimentally manipulated visitor experiences mediated Old Tucson’s impact. In a second Old Tucson study, experimentally manipulated expectations and motivations to reaffirm cultural myths mediated beliefs about the old west and optimism about the future. A Plimouth Plantation study provided evidence that how virtuous visitors perceive the Pilgrims to have been is correlated with their own religiosity or political conservatism.

Informal Science