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Ancient Greece in the Theme Park: From Wisconsin to Taiwan

Filippo Carlà-Uhink (Pädagogische Hochschule Heidelberg)

Ancient Greece in the Theme Park: From Wisconsin to Taiwan

Filippo Carlà-Uhink (Pädagogische Hochschule Heidelberg)

Theme parks adopt very often historical themes, for single areas or for the entire extension of the park. In doing this, they construct immersive environments in which the visitor should be “transported” into another period, being surrounded by architecture, sounds, smells, which in popular perception are connected to the period and culture chosen. Such immersion is the precondition for a new, typically postmodern, form of approach to past societies which has been defined as “time travel” (Holtorf 2007), and which is the most visible consequence of the “affective turn” which has characterized the popular approach to history in the Western world since the 1980s (Agnew 2007). Of course, theme parks do not aim to provide a philological or faithful reconstruction of a past society – this is incompatible, for instance, with the rides they offer as staple of their genre – and their strategies to generate “pastness” are far away from the traditional scholarly concept of authenticity (Holtorf 2005); nonetheless, as central component of the Erlebnisgesellschaft as defined by Schulze (1992), they offer a non-logically constructed, potently affective approach to the past (Carlà – Freitag 2015; Carlà 2016). As it generally happens in reception process, the precondition for the immersion, and for such affective impact, is the recognizability of the historical period, which must therefore be represented through those stereotypes, which make it immediately understandable by the target public. In this sense, the representation of one and the same historical culture can be extremely different in different geographical areas and at different moments, as it connects to popular representations in other media (as movies and comics), to general knowledge as derived from school programs, and to the role played by that period in the cultural memory of the region of the park. This paper will consider from this perspective different theme park representations of ancient Greece, from the USA (Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park, Wisconsin Dells WI), Spain (Terra Mítica, Benidorm), Germany (Europa-Park, Rust and Belantis, Leipzig), China (Happy Valley Beijing, Beijing) and Taiwan (E-Da, Kaohsiung), showing the multiplicity of the affective ancient Greeces built at different corners of the world, and investigating how each of them addresses the affective responses of their specific public.

V. Agnew, “History’s Affective Turn: Historical Reenactment and Its Work in the Present”, in Rethinking History 11, 2007, 299-312.

F. Carlà, “The Uses of History in Themed Spaces”, in S. Lukas (Ed.), A Reader in Themed and Immersive Spaces, Pittsburgh, PA 2016, 19-29.

F. Carlà – F. Freitag, “Geschichtstransformationen in Themenparks”, in S. Georgi et. al. (Eds.), Geschichtstransformationen: Medien, Verfahren und Funktionalisierungen historischer Rezeption, Bielefeld 2015, 131-149.

C. Holtorf, From Stonehenge to Las Vegas. Archaeology as Popular Culture, Walnut Creek, CA, 2005.

C. Holtorf, “Time Travel: A New Perspective on the Distant Past”, in B. Hardh et al. (Eds.), On the Road: Studies in Honour of Lars Larsson, Stockholm 2007, 127-132.

G. Schulze, Die Erlebnisgesellschaft: Kultursoziologie der Gegenwart, Frankfurt a.M. 1992.

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