Preservation and the cultural politics of the past on historic Galveston Island
Castaneda, Terri Alford
Marcus, George E.
Doctor of Philosophy
During the Victorian era, Galveston Island, Texas, was a cosmopolitan port-city, the second wealthiest city in the nation based on per capita income. In 1900, its good fortune was dramatically reversed when a hurricane struck the Island, killing more than 6,000 people and leveling much of the city. Although Galveston never regained its prominence as a shipping and financial center, it did gain notoriety of a different sort--as a haven for prostitution, rum-running, and gambling. Vestiges of this mottled past are visible today, as the rich and poor live cheek by jowl, their respective Victorian mansions and shotgun houses abutting each other at more than the occasional turn. A resort island for much of its existence, Galveston has an old and indigenous discourse of the self (Islanders) and the other (Mainlanders, tourists, and non-native residents). And like many tourist towns and settings, it also has an internal discourse about itself as the cultural other. This discourse is about the islandness that constitutes Galveston's "authentic" cultural otherness, as distinct from the touristic islandness, by which it commodifies and markets itself to outsiders. In the mid 1980s, the Island experienced an identity crisis grounded in the political economy of tourism and ushered in by a period of self-representation that parlayed a denatured historical past into cultural and economic capital. Galveston Island, in the late 20th century, was a city in the throes of historic preservation. As a form of cultural and historical production, preservation requires the privileging of certain periods and images of the past, and the suppression, if not outright erasure of others. The Galveston Historical Foundation, has been remarkably successful in this regard. For nearly a decade its hegemony remained virtually uncontested. But in the mid 80s, a series of political referendums designed to reintroduce gambling to the Island (this time by legal means), pitted the Victorian era-past against an explicitly resort-island past and exposed the symbolic connections between the patronage of preservation by the Island's dynastic families, and their opposition to gambling as a threat to the preservation of their ancestral milieu.
Cultural anthropology; History; Urban planning; Regional planning; American history