History as Edutainment – Learning at a History Theme Park

Carl-Johan Svensson, Jönköping University
Tobias Samuelsson, Jönköping University

When it comes to children’s relation to history, the mix of entertainment and education – edutainment – is an ever-growing trend, blurring the distinction between for example schools, museums and various theme parks. Edutainment establishments attracts growing numbers of children, families and schools every year. The edutainment business is said to offer new methods and different ways of spreading knowledge and tries to introduce novel, surprising approaches to attract visitors. Often the parks use hands-on-pedagogy and visitors get to experience and try features first-handed. The establishments thus expect an active, explorative and interested visitor. Then again, at times it is questioned what visitors actually learn from edutainment institutions, and if the entertainment does not more or less dominate a visit to these places. Research in the field is still scarce, particularly when it comes to studies where researchers follows visitors during their visits. This paper report on a study of 10–12-year-old school children’s visit to High Chaparral a western theme park in Sweden with between 175 000-180 000 visitors every year, a theme park distributing an historical journey back to the 1870s America. In the paper we investigate how the children take on different features and how they through their actions enacts the park. Using material from participant observations during the children’s visits to the park we specifically analyse how the children react to the parks use of history and the mix of entertainment and education at the park. The paper thus highlights the visiting children’s use of history and their contribution in the very learning experience.

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 Presented in Session 197. Playing with Data: Dolls, Toys, and Theme Parks