What does Jacksonian America have to do with Disney World?

American Adventure

Not much.

That is, until history professor David Head of the University of Central Florida in Orlando asked his students to design a Jackson-era vignette for Epcot Center’s American Adventure attraction.

Here is a taste of Head’s piece at The Panorama:

I ask students to create their own vignette that could be added to the American Adventure as representative of the Age of Jackson. (Here’s the full assignment sheet.) Students can choose anything. Something about Jackson himself, his policies, or legacy is fair game, but also anything else: the Second Great Awakening, reform movements, Manifest Destiny, the Mexican War. It’s wide open.

I break down how the vignettes work for students and require that they describe each element of their proposed new story. They must have a visual sequence with pictures and music; an animatronic scene with characters, dialogue, and action; and narrations to introduce and conclude each part. It’s important to note that I don’t require any actual art or music. Just description. The creative part of the assignment is fun, but it’s also challenging. How do you communicate complicated ideas in a visual way?

At the same time, I ask students to explain the significance of each element with an eye toward showing how each choice communicates something important to the audience. Here I want students to also reflect on the numerous constraints on how they might like to tell the story. For example, Disney attracts people from all over the world, many of whom have no background in American history, and some of whom have limited (or no) English. How do you get your message across to such a diverse audience?

Similarly, many children will be watching. How do you make sure the material is age-appropriate? Or, how do you address politically sensitive topics? Disruptions accompanied the debut of a Donald Trump addition to the Hall of Presidents. Disney wants everyone’s money, so attractions must have mass appeal.

However, I caution students that a dumbed-down approach isn’t the answer. There comes a point at which material is so simplified it’s no longer true. But where is that line? How do you preserve quality while accounting for all the other factors an attraction must meet? I created a vignette of my own to show students how it can be done.

Read the entire piece here.