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Mount Rushmore, as one of the primary tourist destinations of both South Dakota and the American West in general, is an important source for an examination of American interstate tourism. However, while many scholars have discussed the physical history of Mount Rushmore, such as Gilbert Fite’s Mount Rushmore and Rex Allen Smith’s The Carving of Mount Rushmore, fewer historians have discussed the intellectual history behind the monument. The intentions imbued in the monument from its creators, and the impact the creation of Mount Rushmore had upon the American public are both worth analyzing because those two aspects ended up so widely disconnected from each other. In particular, it is necessary to explore the creators’ intentions of the monument as a tribute to and a manifestation of the growing American nation. However, it is also necessary to simultaneously explore how American interstate tourists inevitably viewed and understood the monument in the immediate decades after its opening, and their particular apathy towards those original intentions. When we explore this later perspective, it becomes obvious that the hyper-nationalistic intentions the design of Mount Rushmore espoused did not translate to how the American public received it. Overall, by exploring the intellectual history of the monument, and comparing the intentions and impact, we can discuss how the intentions of American nationalists were ignored and even defied by the general interpretations of the American public.


Undergraduate Research Awards - 2024 Finalist, Junior/Senior category