San Diego State University College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts

HTM Professor Researches Tourism From A Human Dignity Perspective

Larry Beck visited 41 national historic sites and studied their impact through a social justice lens

HTM Professor Researches Tourism From A Human Dignity Perspective

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama

by Sofia Bert

October 9, 2019

October 10, 2019

Larry Beck, a professor in the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, embarked on a project examining the interpretation of social justice issues in national parks, monuments, historic homes, museums, plantations, Civil War battlefields, and other tourism sites.

“In such places, you’re experiencing the history firsthand, whether it be the Richmond Slave Trail in Virginia, the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C., or Stonewall Inn at Greenwich Village in New York City. There’s a certain powerful influence in being at the very place where the history happened,” said Beck.

The term “interpretation” from a tourism perspective is the way a professional interpreter takes information about a location and translates the story in meaningful and engaging ways for visitors to the site said Beck.

“Interpretation is an educational activity which aims to reveal meanings through original objects and firsthand experiences. Interpreters communicate a sense of place and historic meaning,” said Beck.

Beck has written several books and more than a hundred journal articles on natural and cultural heritage interpretation. Two of his books are used in the professional certification process by the National Association for Interpretation.

What inspired Beck to begin this current journey was his observation that American history is now being more fully and honestly told. For example, Whitney Plantation just outside of New Orleans is among the first plantations to fully acknowledge slavery and the lives of the enslaved.

“Most plantations focus on tours of the Big House and not the lives of the enslaved that made such opulence possible,” said Beck.

Beck feels that this study is very different and in some ways more important than multi-million-dollar grant research he has done. “This timely work focuses on human dignity and relates to our current national conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Beck.

Most of Beck’s work on this project is being published in Legacy, under the title “Justice For All” the journal of the National Association for Interpretation. He is currently working on his ninth article with pieces so far including women’s equality, Native Americans, Japanese Americans, persons with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, and several articles on the African American experience.

His research so far has spanned 41 heritage sites all over the country. Beck said that each of the sites was enormously complex and often emotionally intense and heart-rending.

“Such places and their stories, providing an honest and accurate look into our history, are integral to who we are and what it means to be an American. These stories from the past help explain the present and point us to a better future—with liberty and justice for all,” said Beck.

The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.

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