Settler colonial tourism: Camille Petersen, The “Oldest City” Narrative: Colorblind Settler Racism and Historical Storytelling in St. Augustine, Florida, PhD dissertation, Northeastern University, 2020


Abstract: This dissertation examines place-based national origins stories told in the context of the City of St Augustine and Florida tourism. Using data from two commemorations and a national monument, I examine how discourses of race and settler colonialism structure the narratives at the city, state, and national levels. Historicizing the USA as a settler colony brings together research from native studies and indigenous scholars to help sociologists move beyond the Black/White binary and more fully understand the ideological work that historical storytelling does. The City of St Augustine and the state of Florida rely on heritage tourism and colonial charm to lure visitors and new residents by the millions each year. Using Critical Race Discourse Analysis (CRDA) for this extended case study, I find that colorblind racialized discourses and representations function not only to promote racist attitudes but to shore up the dominant settler colonial ideology which claims that the USA is a White nation and White settlers are rightful owners of the land. Furthermore, the narratives dismiss colonial racist violence and centralize only White characters in the present, contributing to the maintenance of a Eurocentric White worldview in which Indians and Afro-Americans exist only in the past or on the margins. Finally, tales of resistance to racialized domination are silenced in the tourism narratives, despite an accessible archive of Indian and Black resistance in Florida. In the first chapter I lay out the theoretical interventions made by scholars in various fields and position them as contributions to a historically specific sociological understanding of race and ethnicity as a global and local power structure, proposing a an analytic of historical storytelling rather than memory or heritage. The settler colonial (as opposed to postcolonial) context of the USA is the key intervention from native/Indigenous and Settler Colonial studies and serves as the theoretical framework to understand the contradictory ideology of colorblind racism throughout the dissertation. In the following three empirical chapters, I identify the key tropes of colorblind settler racism as an ideology which forms the basis of our national origins story and prevailing cultural norms of Eurocentric Whiteness. In the first chapter I am analyzing ethnographic and textual data from the city of St Augustine’s 450th celebration, commemorating 450 years since the “encounter” between Pedro Menendez and Indigenous inhabitants at what would be named St Augustine and settled by the Spanish. As a commemoration, the 450th serves to celebrate settler colonial heroes who teach us lessons about meritocracy and the American Dream through the lens of the ‘moment of encounter’ in St Augustine as the birth of multicultural America. In the next chapter I use data from the state-wide “Viva Florida 500!” marketing campaign and year-long commemoration, including a historical “courtroom drama” written and performed for the occasion and a promotional video from the “Florida Brand” advertising campaign. In this chapter I show how settler ideology functions through historical storytelling in a knowledge economy at the confluence of history, archaeology, and marketing. Settler tropes pervade the heritage landscape through these various industries and are presented to the public as official truth, explicitly and implicitly in the images and characters chosen to represent the state. In the final empirical chapter, I analyze the historical storytelling at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, finding that the stories told in the museum and by the St Augustine visual landscape at large are descendent from explicit settler colonial plans to make this land “our own” through institutional and legal means. The preservations of the National Park Service and Antiquities Act do ideological work to promote the idea of a White nation that “rightfully” owns land stolen through the Discovery Doctrine. Throughout this research, the findings show that diversity and inclusion of non-White historical figures in the ‘stock story’ narrative of the USA promotes racism and White Supremacy just as well as exclusion does, and both moves continue to coexist.

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