This paper was a departure for a specialty group presentation in that it focused not on the conservation or technical study of material culture, but on the creation and consumption of cultural narratives and landscapes. Magee noted that conservation work informs and perpetuates stories about people, places, and things, and made the point that conservators are generally comfortable thinking about our work in the context of education, science, and academic scholarship. But she proposed the idea that we must also consider our role in the broader context of tourism, since the primary products of our work – conserved objects and sites – are most often intended for consumption by the general public, also known as tourists.
Her paper included a brief overview of tourism studies, examining the impact of tourism on different kinds of sustainability: economic, ecological, and cultural. The bulk of the paper was spent illustrating the latter point, looking at the ways tourism influences our perception of history and heritage by creating hybrid tourist/cultural heritage landscapes and influencing cultural memory.
Magee used two examples from her doctoral research, which focuses on the landscapes and material culture of the Washoe people in the Lake Tahoe area. The first example was Cave Rock, a pilgrimage site of major spiritual significance for the Washoe. The site was progressively destroyed by tourism, evolving from a culturally significant tourism site, to a pathway for a road, to a mecca for rock climbers. The second example focused on an iconic Washoe basket form, the degikup, and its most famous creator, Dat-So-La-lee. Magee examined the shared mythos of Dat-So-La-Lee and the degikup in detail, revealing the stories, and the basket form itself, to be products created for tourism.
The role of the conservator in shaping the destiny of a site like Cave Rock or the narrative surrounding iconic artifacts and artists like the degikup and Dat-So-La-Lee was not explicitly discussed. It’s not difficult, however, to imagine the complexity inherent in conservation decision-making for the kinds of tourist-hybridized sites, objects, and narratives explored in this paper. Magee argued that we conservators will discharge our responsibilities best if we develop a better awareness of our role in the cultural production of tourism. With that awareness, we can improve our agency in the process and generate better outcomes for sites, objects, and the communities we serve.