Understanding historical events through dress and costume displays in Titanic museum attractions Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/hx11xj66p

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  • The sinking of the RMS Titanic has achieved a difficult feat – it has remained culturally relevant. The dedication of the general public to understanding Titanic is evident in many avenues of popular and consumer culture. For those individuals who did not get enough of the 1997 Titanic movie, there are numerous Titanic museums and attractions to visit. What interests me as a scholar of historic dress is that the 1997 film is often used as a lens through which the historical events are interpreted and understood. More specifically the character of Rose (from the 1997 Titanic movie) has been translated from a film character to a living history character. Rose has become an integral part of the marketing and exhibiting techniques at some Titanic museum attractions. The purpose of this research was to conduct an introductory exploration of the role of film costume iconography in learning about a historical event and the development of a personal connection with an iconic character in the context of that event. Four permanent Titanic museum attractions were selected as sites of study: museum attractions in Branson, Missouri; Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; Orlando, Florida; and Las Vegas, Nevada. A total of 32 participants were included. Both museum attraction visitors and staff participated in this study; twenty-nine participants were classified as visitors and three participants were classified as staff. Phenomenological and inductive approaches were undertaken. Qualitative (personal phenomenology, phenomenological interviews, and brief participant observation) data collection techniques were employed. Both descriptive and experiential phenomenological and narrative approaches were combined to analyze the resulting data. I utilized a descriptive phenomenological method outlined by Giorgi and Giorgi (2003), and I made modifications to the procedure to fit the unique needs of my data. Data collection occurred in two phases at each location. In phase one, I participated in personal phenomenology during a visit to each museum attraction. In phase two, I collected data with participants. Data collection with visitor participants occurred in three stages: (1) pre-museum attraction visit interview, (2) the participant visited a Titanic museum attraction, and (3) post-museum attraction visit interview. I collected data with each staff participant during one interview. The findings of this study revealed that there are many perspectives from which to tell the story of Titanic and help museum attraction visitors learn the history of the ill-fated ship. I found that Rose did not factor into the decision of the participants to visit a Titanic museum attraction. If a participant learned from or about Rose, she did not factor into the learning or personal meaning-making process until he or she was inside the museum attraction. It was more common for participants to relate to the historical events of Titanic through the movie as a whole, as opposed to the specific character of Rose. The scenario of including a Rose living history interpreter as part of the lived experience of a museum visit elicited a wide range of reactions from participants. It was more common for participants to oppose the presence of a Rose living history interpreter than favor her presence. Several participants reported instances when they drew a spontaneous connection to the movie or were reminded of the movie in their own mind. Several participants used the movie as a foundation to build further historical understanding about Titanic. Some participants used the movie as a source of comparison to explore or confirm the accuracy of the movie. The primary difference in the museum attraction experience for visitors who had not seen the movie was that they encountered difficulty in relating and paying attention to any content or reference to the movie. A general phenomenological structure was formed from the data. As part of this study, I sought to further expand the body of literature that applies visual rhetorical theory and semiotic theory to dress and costume. A discussion of the resulting theoretical implications is included. An outcome of the phenomenological data collection and analysis was a list of recommendations for future practice specifically related to the display of dress and costume in both Titanic museum attractions and museums in general. I conclude with recommendations for future research and a reflective summary.
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