American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


"So You Want To Be A Retronaut?": History and Temporal Tourism

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Jeremy Wallach (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Esther Clinton (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Thomas Edge (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kenneth Borland (Other)


In "So You Want to Be A Retronaut?": History and Temporal Tourism, I examine how contemporary individuals explore and engage with the past beyond the classroom through nostalgic consumerism, watching historical reality television, visiting historical sites or living history museums, handling historical objects, and, in many cases, participating in living history or historical re-enactment. The phrase “make America great again” taps directly into a belief that our nation has been diverted from a singular history that was better, purer, or even happier. What it ignores, though, is that the past is fraught for millions of Americans because their history – based on generations of inequality – is not to be celebrated, but rather commemorated for those who died, those who survived, and those who made their place in a nation that often didn’t want them. To connect to that complicated history, many of us seek to make that history personal and to see a reflection of who we are in the present in the mirror of past. For this project I conducted 54 interviews of subjects gathered from a variety of historically significant commemorations and locations such as the 2013 and 2015 memorial observances at Gettysburg, PA, and sites at Mount Vernon, Historic Jamestowne, and Colonial Williamsburg, VA. I also attended re-enactments at Gettysburg, PA, Conneaut, OH, Huntington Beach, CA, Grand Rapids, OH, and Zoar, OH to observe and interview subjects. From the interviews, four levels of engagement emerged: level 0.5, or nostalgics; level one, or day trippers; level two, or retronauts; and level three, or dual citizens. For each of these groups, the past is a destination that calls to them and they are ready to travel, whatever form that travel might take.