Seeing History: A Visual Assessment of the Historic-Grounding of Old Western Tourist Towns

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Despite the significant role that the visual plays in the experience of tourism, few studies have specifically examined the visual appearances of heritage tourist destinations. This study sought to analyze how historically grounded the visual appearances were of two heritage tourist towns in the state of Arizona: Tombstone and Jerome. These towns were both mining towns that experienced historic booms during the days of the American Old West and survive today as tourist destinations. This study utilized a detailed visual comparison of historic and contemporary town photographs in order to assess the relative historic-grounding of building exteriors and streets. It also incorporated the findings of interviews with tourists and town residents regarding their perceptions of visual historic-grounding. Study findings offered a means to assess and compare visual historic-grounding. Additionally, they suggested that while visual historic-grounding was important to visitors, it was one of several factors influencing their perceptions of the town's historic appearance: visual appeal, personal reflections, engaging activities, and previous visitor expectations of the American Old West (often grounded in filmic-representations) worked together to visually communicate a general impression of history within each town.

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Taylor and Francis Ltd.

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