sml logo Dark Ages Re-Creation Company sml logo
Overview
+ Bibliographies
+ General
+ Interpretation
+ Pastimes
+ Reviews
+ Techniques

Fife W. "Penetrating Types: Conflating Modernist and Postmodernist Tourism on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland." Journal of American Folklore 117(464) (2004): 147-167.

This article discusses the interaction of postmodernism and modernism at the L'anse aux Meadows and Norstead sites in Newfoundland. The article begins by presenting the background of the two sites, and introducing the concepts of postmodernism and modernism. I found the initial discussion of these two terms to be quite difficult to understand, although their meaning later becomes clear in the context of the article. Within this article modernism is used to refer to the processes and presentations that are explicitly linked to specific verifiable artifacts and contexts, while postmodernist presentations take a more relaxed or playful attitude with regards to time, place and explicit links to artifacts and contexts. By way of an example, in a modernist presentation a guide would refer to a display case containing the ring-headed pin from the excavation with full details of context provided on a card beside it. In a post-modernist presentation it would be possible to see a group of re-enactors each wearing different pins from various times and locations around the Viking era Norse culture, even though no single find of such a breadth exists. The article continues on to discuss specific publications, staff behaviors, concepts of authenticity, and the physical sites in light of these concepts. The major conclusion drawn is that the two types of approach do well in concert with each other by appealing to different sides of the visitors.

The context of this article is extremely specific, focusing exclusively on the two sites during a single year (2000). The year in question provides an interesting impact to the article as this was advertised by the provincial government as the 1000th anniversary of the Viking arrival. The significant promotional budget, and enhanced activities would have drawn a broader audience than might otherwise have come to the sites in question. Moreover the new site (Norstead) was in its first year and its staff was being supplemented by various reenactment groups. The author notes the difference between the trained staff and the volunteers at Norstead and discusses the training the staff at Norstead received. No discussion is provided, however, on the difference in training and experience between the staff at Norstead and that at L'anse aux Meadows. Without knowledge of this difference in experience and an understanding of the training each group received (including the desired presentation style) it is difficult to know if the juxtaposition of modernist and postmodernist elements was intentional or not.

This article is not based on any medieval sources. Instead the research comes from personal interviews with the staff at both locations, and observations of the staff and visitors made during 2000 at the two locations in Newfoundland. Additional sources include publications from each site and supporting papers.

Due to the nature of the article it is impossible to know the full content of the interviews and therefore what methods the author may have used to interpret the information. The quotes used may or may not be in context. The author examines the data available (publications and interviews) in light of the two specific styles of presentation which will impact his view of the material and may not illuminate alternate meanings of some of his observations.

This article focuses on aspects of modernism and postmodernism and the overlap between them at the two sites. It was particularly useful when visitor quotes are used to indicate their preconceptions and the impact the presentation styles can have on those preconceptions. The author concludes that the L'anse aux Meadows site uses a hybrid form combining both modernist and postmodernist styles while Norstead uses a more solid postmodernist style (although with some modernist incursions). He also concludes that the co-existence of these two sites and styles has a beneficial effect for visitors to the region.

Next the concept of authenticity at a level accessible by the visitor is presented whether in a modernist light, namely a "rational authenticity" backed by empirical evidence or a postmodernist light "aesthetic authenticity" backed by the visitor's belief that this feels right. Finally these concepts are all placed in the context of tourism - an environment based more in "play" than an acedemic evironment - which will control the tourist's level of acceptance.

Presentation style will be an important factor when designing a Viking exhibit in a museum or tourist environment. The two styles discussed and their reflections in the visitor's words provide valuable options. As with other articles of this type, additional hard data such as an exit survey would be valuable as supporting evidence. For example, specific information such as attendance figures from the two sites could have been used to support the author's statement that most visitors attended both sites. Demographic information on the visitors who did not attend both sites might also have provided an insight into the expectations of different types of visitors and preferences for one style of presentation over another which would assist an exhibit designed in making presentation choices.

      Updated: 4 Dec, 2007
Text © Neil Peterson, 2007   Copyright details
Contact us