Heritage Tourism, Historic Roadside Markers and “Just Representation” in Tennessee, USA

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The American landscape is increasingly populated with memorial tourist sites showing a devotion to the past. In the last published statewide study of Tennessee historical roadside markers, Jones (1988) analyzed the 1,170 roadside markers across the state. In his analysis, markers devoted to black history or white women accounted for only 0.7% (n=8) and 0.8% (n=9), respectively, of all markers. At the time of this study there were more roadside markers solely dedicated to David Crocket (0.9%, n=11) than to either of these groups. Additionally, Native American people merely accounted for 3.0% (n=35), while white men accounted for 11.7% (n=137)–including 3% dedicated to Klu Klux Klan Founder Nathan Bedford Forrest (Jones, 1988). This particularly visible expression of public history serves primarily to preserve a white, Protestant, male history of the area (Jones, 1988). Using data on the 313 historical roadside markers erected since 1988, we (1) update the analysis of Jones (1988) and (2) discuss the lack of a “just representation” of non-white male history in these markers that has carried forward to 2019. The study is informed by social representation and critical race theory.