22. Disney’s America Park Map

By Maddy Culpepper (@exlibrismaddy)

In 1993, The Walt Disney Company announced a new theme park that never would be. Disney’s America was a $650 million, 3,000-acre project in Virginia that would have centered on a singular theme: American history. [1] Its announcement was quickly met with furious debate, leading to congressional hearings, environmental reviews and an avalanche of op-eds. [2] Over 150 American academic historians, including James McPherson, Shelby Foote, Arthur Schlesinger, and Ken Burns, formed Protect Historic America to oppose the project. [3] Many failed to see how Disney’s brand, rooted in white middle-class family values, could ever accurately portray American history, and misguided statements by Disney execs only heightened such concerns. [4] Who wanted Mickey Mouse teaching their children about slavery?

Disney did attempt to course-correct, belatedly involving historians like Eric Foner and James Oliver Horton as academic advisors. [5] However, a summer of controversy had doomed the park. In September 1994, Disney announced that it would choose another location, and then promptly shuffled it aside. Despite its failure, Disney’s America raises some fascinating questions about the role of professional historians in for-profit history. “If Disney is going to do history, and they almost certainly will,” Horton asked in 1994, “why not encourage them to use their considerable technology to do it well?” [6] Then again, commercial history has its limits. Only months after shelving plans for the park, Disney Animation would release Pocahontas.

Disney’s current Main Street USA

Featured image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54123661

Main Street image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/expressmonorail/3075869737


[1] Otis L. Graham, Jr., “Learning Together–Disney and the Historians,” The Public Historian 16, 4 (1994), 5-8: 5.

[2] Marcia G. Synott, “Disney’s America: Whose Patrimony, Whose Profits, Whose Past,” The Public Historian 17, 4 (1995), 43-59: 44.

[3] Graham, “Learning Together,” 6.

[4] Michael Wallace, Mickey Mouse history and other essays on American memory (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996), 133.

[5] Synott, “Disney’s America,” 57.

[6] Ibid., 57.

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