University of Mary Washington Associate Professor of History and American Studies Will Mackintosh will be featured on the With Good Reason (WGR) public radio show. The episode, Selling the Sights, will air daily starting tomorrow, Saturday, Aug. 24, and continuing through Aug. 30.
Titled after Mackintosh’s book, Selling the Sights: The Invention of the Tourist in American Culture, the show chronicles the origin and evolution of the concept of tourism, explores the ways it’s used today to develop rural communities, and more.
Published in January by NYU Press, Mackintosh’s book examines how a booming transportation industry simplified the process of getting from one place to another and led to a new type of traveler – the “tourist” – who journeys from home simply for the sake of traveling.
A summer job he held in high school as a waiter on a dinner cruise boat touring a lake lined with Gilded-Age mansions provided the impetus for his research, he told WGR host Sarah McConnell. “It just got me really interested in the way people spent their leisure time in the 19th century.”
Joining experts from other Virginia colleges on the radio show, Mackintosh describes how the improvement of roads and the availability of public travel on steamboats, stage coaches and railroads during the first decades of the 1800s led to the notion of tourism.
“A tourist is someone who is fundamentally a consumer,” Mackintosh said. “They’re buying a train ticket instead of making their way on their own two feet or on their own horse.”
He shares on the show an excerpt from his book tracing two journeys by a man named William Richardson. At the start of the 19th century, Richardson took an excruciating months-long trip from Boston to New Orleans, during which he lost his way, lost his horses and was forced to rely on strangers. A subsequent trip decades later – from Kentucky to New York in order to visit Europe with his wife – seemed luxurious in comparison, though it called for a complicated maze of travel by steamboat, stagecoach and train car.
“That seems exhausting to us, who are used to just getting in a car and getting on the interstate,” Mackintosh says. “But compared to literally wandering around in the dark in swamps in Mississippi Territory at the dawn of the 19th century, this feels like … luxury. Someone else is doing the work for him.”
Mackintosh shares with McConnell the efforts of some early ticket-buyers to shake tourism’s reputation as silly and superficial – recording scientific observations along the way, for example, or framing their travels as educational – a push that continues today.
“I realized that being a traveler is all about distinguishing yourself from a tourist” Mackintosh said of an epiphany he had during his research. “People are still really grasping to make travel experiences authentic.”
With Good Reason airs Sundays at 2 p.m. on Fredericksburg’s Radio IQ 88.3 Digital and at various times throughout the week on stations across Virginia and the United States. Check the website for show times.