Bizarre, contentious, and extremely popular, Mount Rushmore National Memorial has been etched into the U.S. identity since it’s construction in 1877. According to the official site, it “[symbolizes] the ideals of freedom and democracy.” The National Park Service’s page for the memorial features this quote from Rushmore’s architect Gutzon Borglum:
The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.
“Colossal” couldn’t be more accurate. With 20-foot high Presidential faces carved with dynamite, this American landmark in the desert of South Dakota is a landmark so ambitious that even in the desert it sticks out. But Mount Rushmore’s history is as equally difficult to ignore , raising uncomfortable questions about it’s preeminent place in our culture. Borglum, himself, served as a member of the Klu Klux Klan , and the Rushmore property (which at one time had been willed to the Sioux Nation) was taken back by the government in 1874 when gold was discovered there. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the federal government in favor of the Lakota tribe, but the case remains unresolved.
This paper will analyze user’s reviews of Mount Rushmore on the social media site Tripadvisor to explore perceptions of the memorial as it relates to the United State’s national identity. With ten years of data, I will use visualization tools such as Voyant to analyze linguistic trends that rise to the surface, whether these trends change over time, and if certain words correlate to negative or positive reviews (only 219 of the 3,508 reviews were given an “average” or below rating). Some of the questions I hope to answer include: (1) Are visitor’s aware of the monument’s history, and if so, does it influence their rating? (2) What language correlates to negative and positive reviews? (3) Do linguistic trends change over the decade? (4)After analyzing these subsets, what can be concluded about how reviewers interpret their own national identity?
Those that came before
Using social media to analyze how the public defines and creates meaning has been an emerging field of scholarship that this study hopes to continue. In “My Tripadvisor: Mining Social Media for Visitor’s Perceptions of Museums vs. Attractions,” Elizabeth Mauer used Tripadvisor comments to analyze the expectations and perceptions of museum visitors in order to re-think how museums can better represent themselves. In “Trip Advisor Rates Einstein,” Trevor Owens shows that the creation of meaning through social media is recursive; a place to record reactions, while simultaneously providing a ‘frame’ that influences how new visitor’s interpret the statue. Bryan Routledge performs computational linguistics on social media to break open language trends and what they say about society. As an example, he and a team of researchers used Yelp reviews to show that expensive restaurants are most often described through metaphors of sex, while cheap restaurants were described through metaphors of drug abuse and addiction. These scholars have used an emerging corpus of data to make important statements about society and meaning-creation.
Methodology Unfortunately, Tripadvisor will not allow API access for academic research or data analysis, so I plan to sample 25-30% of the reviews for the purposes of this class. On the up side, Tripadvisor allows you to sort by date and reviewer ranking, so getting at the data from different angles will be relatively easy. Through the text-mining tool Ventura, you can search by specific words and also see overarching trends. I plan to use both methods on three different sample sets (negative reviews, positive reviews, and a span from 2004-2015), in order to answer my proposal questions.
It is my hope that this study benefits a cross-section of disciplines in the social sciences, contributes to emerging digital scholarship, and gives us insight into how we reconcile the sometimes contradictory narratives of a monument’s history and what it is supposed to represent.