Tourists of History

Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero

Tourists of History

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 119 illustrations Published: November 2007

Author: Marita Sturken

American Studies, Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Cultural Studies

In Tourists of History, the cultural critic Marita Sturken argues that over the past two decades, Americans have responded to national trauma through consumerism, kitsch sentiment, and tourist practices in ways that reveal a tenacious investment in the idea of America’s innocence. Sturken investigates the consumerism that followed from the September 11th attacks; the contentious, ongoing debates about memorials and celebrity-architect designed buildings at Ground Zero; and two outcomes of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City: the Oklahoma City National Memorial and the execution of Timothy McVeigh.

Sturken contends that a consumer culture of comfort objects such as World Trade Center snow globes, FDNY teddy bears, and Oklahoma City Memorial t-shirts and branded water, as well as reenactments of traumatic events in memorial and architectural designs, enables a national tendency to see U.S. culture as distant from both history and world politics. A kitsch comfort culture contributes to a “tourist” relationship to history: Americans can feel good about visiting and buying souvenirs at sites of national mourning without having to engage with the economic, social, and political causes of the violent events. While arguing for the importance of remembering tragic losses of life, Sturken is urging attention to a dangerous confluence—of memory, tourism, consumerism, paranoia, security, and kitsch—that promulgates fear to sell safety, offers prepackaged emotion at the expense of critical thought, contains alternative politics, and facilitates public acquiescence in the federal government’s repressive measures at home and its aggressive political and military policies abroad.


Tourists of History provides insight into memorialization of American history. In particular, Sturken sheds light on the public’s immediate reaction to the two events and how that response influenced subsequent developments, such as the establishment of memorials at both the Oklahoma City bombing site and Ground Zero.” — Leslie Meyer, Institute of Museum Ethics

“[T]here is some insightful work here—chapter five, ‘Architectures of Grief and the Aesthetics of Absence’ (extending on her contribution to the Understanding September 11 volume), is an especially careful and intriguing analysis, and many of the narratives and relations Sturken critiques and analyzes throughout her book are indeed unhealthy ones. . . .” — Ryan Gillespie, Popmatters

“[T]his book presents an excellent and extensive analysis of the myriad of responses to two of the major national traumas of our time and place. The book will be of interest to those whose research, scholarship, and teachings touch on the many aspects of contemporary American culture.” — Arthur G. Neal, Journal of American Culture

“At a time in US history which is increasingly defined by an obsession with memorialisation, Sturken’s book is a much-needed contribution to the relatively few studies that explore the multifaceted intersection of cultural memory with tourism and marketing on the one hand and kitsch, paranoia and surveillance on the other. . . . Her work is impressive in its theoretical and analytical depth, rich empirical details and astute observations. Most importantly, it is a political project that urges us all to rethink the ways in which terrorism can be understood as a consequence of human conflicts. . .” — Zala Volcic, Media International Australia

“Drawing the threads between Oklahoma City and Ground Zero and their deeper ties to U.S. history and culture, Sturken illuminates the dangers in being tourists of history.” — Kate Delaney, American Studies

“In Tourists of History, Marita Sturken provides a rich reading of other kitsch artifacts, arguing powerfully for how seemingly mundane acts of consumption articulate to certain politics, and deny the possibility of others. . . . Sturken provides a number of interesting and powerful contributions to a variety of scholarly conversations on memory, trauma, tourism, and public culture. Her clear articulation of the politics of seemingly mundane objects speaks to her ability as a critic, and makes Tourists of History both informative and entertaining.” — Ryan Erik Mcgeough, Quarterly Journal of Speech

“Marita Sturken’s Tourists of History is essential reading for cultural studies scholars interested in the aesthetic and rhetorical dimensions of public memory. . . . [The book is] particularly well suited to elucidate the surfaces and excavate the depths of what might otherwise be discarded in the proverbial dustbin of history.” — Jessica L. Shumake, TOPIA

“People with interests in material culture, cultural memory, the pedagogy of memory, architecture, monuments, tourism and kitsch will find this an engaging and delightful read.” — Tonya Davidson, Space and Culture

“Readers will be fascinated by the social and political commentary buried in Sturken's appraisal of kitsch. A thought-provoking work; highly recommended.” — Theresa Kintz, Library Journal

“Sturken is at her best making connections among the varied strands of American popular culture and mass media. . . . Sturken's analysis of contemporary consumer culture is stimulating. . . .” — Kenneth E. Foote, Journal of American History

“Sturken shows how the complex interrelationship of fear and safety ultimately defines contemporary American culture and provides momentum for an episteme in which a terrorist threat is always imminent. Her book is original and powerfully insightful, and comes strongly recommended to readers of cultural studies and public history.” — Adam Dodd, M/C Reviews

“Sturken’s account will unsettle readers and keep people thinking long after they have finished her book.” — Judith Gerson, American Journal of Sociology

“Sturken’s insight, and her ability to make the theories she uses to ground that insight accessible to readers, makes Tourists of History a useful source for anyone interested in the consequences of certain kinds of consumerism and contemporary culture.” — Brandy L. Grabow, Journal of Popular Culture

“While she argues for the importance of remembering the tragic loss of lives in Oklahoma City, Washington, Shanksville, and New York City, Sturken urges attention be paid to a dangerous confluence of memory, tourism, consumerism, paranoia, security, and kitsch that promulgates fear in order to sell safety, offers prepackaged emotion at the expense of critical thought, contains alternative politics not always seen until after the fact, and facilitates public acquiescence in the federal government's repressive measures at home and its aggressive political and military policies abroad.” — John F. Barber, Leonardo Reviews

Tourists of History is a fearless guide through the paranoid landscape of contemporary American culture. Marita Sturken brilliantly maps the ways consumerism and tourism offer avenues of comfort in a threatening world at the same time that they become politically disabling. From the responses to the Oklahoma City bombing to the memorials to the Twin Towers, Sturken shows how the American way of mourning and remembering the dead shores up a conviction in a timeless sense of national innocence. This exceptionally timely book reaches deep into the past and will continue to resonate in the future.” — Amy Kaplan, author of The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture

Tourists of History is a great read: well written, accessible on numerous levels, and driven by a persuasive argument that links tourism, consumerism, and Americans’ understandings of themselves and their history.” — Erika Doss, author of Spirit Poles and Flying Pigs: Public Art and Cultural Democracy in American Communities


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Marita Sturken is a professor of culture and communication at New York University. She is the author of Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering and a coauthor of Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Consuming Fear and Selling Comfort 35

2. Citizens and Survivors: Cultural Memory and Oklahoma City 93

3. The Spectacle of Death and the Spectacle of Grief: The Execution of Timothy McVeigh 139

4. Tourism and “Sacred Ground”: The Space of Ground Zero 165

5. Architectures of Grief and the Aesthetics of Absence 219

Conclusion 287

Notes 295

Bibliography 319

Index 333
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4122-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4103-1
Publicity material