WATERFRONTS FOR WORK AND PLAY: MYTHSCAPES OF HERITAGE AND IDENTITY IN CONTEMPORARY RHODE ISLAND
Williams, Kristen Arlene
Struna, Nancy A
ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: WATERFRONTS FOR WORK AND PLAY: MYTHSCAPES OF HERITAGE AND IDENTITY IN CONTEMPORARY RHODE ISLAND Kristen A. Williams, Doctor of Philosophy, 2010 Dissertation directed by: Dr. Nancy L. Struna Department of American Studies My dissertation examines the relationship between heritage sites, urban culture, and civic life in present-day Rhode Island, evaluating how residents' identities and patterns of civic engagement are informed by site-specific tourist narratives of eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth-century labor histories. Considering the adaptive reuse of former places of maritime trade and industry as contemporary sites of leisure, I analyze the role that historic tourism plays in local and regional economic urban redevelopment. I argue that the mythscapes of exceptionalism mobilized at Rhode Island's heritage sites create usable pasts in the present for current residents and visitors alike, alternatively foregrounding and obscuring intersectional categories of difference according to contemporaneous political climates at the local, national and transnational levels. This study is divided into two parts, organized chronologically and geographically. While Part I examines the dominant tourist narratives associated with Newport County, located in the southeast of the state and including Aquidneck Island (also known as Rhode Island), Part II takes the historic tourism associated with mainland Providence Plantations as its case study and focuses exclusively on Providence County, covering the middle and northern ends of the state. In each of these sections, I explore, challenge, and re-contextualize the politics of narratives which reference the earliest Anglophone settlers of Rhode Island as religious refugees and members of what scholar Robin Cohen refers to as a "victim diaspora" against the rich co-constitutive histories of im/migrant groups that, either by force or choice, relocated to Rhode Island for work and thus constitute a "labour diaspora." The existence of these two or more populations living in close proximity to each other in areas of Newport and Providence, I argue, produced what Denis Byrne calls a "nervous landscape" fraught with cultural, economic and political tensions which exists even as narratives of the pasts associated with each group are mobilized in the contemporary urban environs of each city and its tourist attractions.