“Where else would you find blacktop trails to a 130-some year old ravine”: negotiated authenticity at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

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Wahl, Jeff
Heritage tourism is an industry fundamentally bound to the presentation of history for tourist consumption. As such, the concept of authenticity is a central focus of heritage tourism experiences. The two predominant views of authenticity, objectivism and constructivism, respectively circumscribe authenticity as a historically grounded concept, bound to toured objects that is measured by its accuracy to the original, as well as a socially constructed notion that is subjectively experienced by tourists. Objective forms of authenticity have been positively linked to heritage tourists’ motivations, expenditures and experiences. However, juxtaposing this view, constructivist ideology holds that objective authenticity is challenging to define and express as a singularity, and that symbolic cultural representation is more important to tourism experiences. Between these opposing views, the negotiated view of authenticity seeks to strike a balance between the objectivist/constructivist paradigms, allowing for both historically grounded and socially constructed elements to be experienced by tourists. The purpose of this research was to explore heritage tourists’ experiences with negotiated authenticity at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. The Little Bighorn Battlefield is a heritage tourism site that presents both historical facts and symbolic cultural meaning for tourism consumption, where neither the views of objectivism, nor constructivism adequately describe tourism experiences. The research employed case study methodology, utilizing semi-structured interviews and unstructured observations conducted at the battlefield, as well as the content analysis of online reviews to explore the experiences of tourists with five distinct manifestations of authenticity (Chronis & Hampton, 2008). The findings of this research suggest that tourists’ experience negotiated authenticity in three forms: historical accuracy, socially constructed representations, and individual meaning making.
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