Lawrence University history major Diana Van Gilder is heading to France this summer to present a paper at a conference that explores links between tourism and fiction.

A junior from Moraga, California, Van Gilder will be among the presenters at the Imagining Tourists and Tourism conference in Paris in mid-June.  

During a Winter Term course about the history of New Orleans, Van Gilder wrote a paper on Disneyland’s representation of 1920s New Orleans throughout its park history.  

"I found it was something I was really passionate about," Van Gilder said.

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She said her mother has a connection to the Imagining Tourists and Tourism conference, which was how they found out about the open call for papers. She shifted the focus of her paper, discussing how Disney uses Black characters, such as Princess Tiana, to bring in Black consumers and tourists.

The conference, subtitled Fiction, Practices and Representations, will be held at the National Institute of Art History, in collaboration with the University of California, Berkeley, Universite Paris Pantheon Sorbonne, and Universite De Geneve. It allows individuals focused on the anthropology of tourism to meet and collaborate, sharing their ideas and innovations. It is part of a series of conferences organized annually since 2011.

It will be a bit of a family affair for Van Gilder.

"My mom is doing her own paper focusing on Hawaiian tourism," she said. "We thought I'd get to go see it, and now I'm presenting." 

Van Gilder is looking forward to the opportunities the conference will present. 

"I'll be networking with other professors on the first day around papers similar to mine and talking with people who have done research related to what I’m doing,” she said. “I'm excited to absorb as much knowledge as I can." 

Van Gilder shares that she wouldn't be able to have these opportunities without help from Betsy Schlabach, associate professor of history, and others in the History Department. They have continued to help Van Gilder practice the presentation and explore additional ideas for the conference.  

"They helped me get my writing skills to the level that they are," she said.  

Van Gilder will continue her research and critiques of Disney's practices, recognizing they have a long way to go. She hopes to work in the archives field post-graduation, and this experience will build on that potential path. 

"Disney is changing a lot of rides and buildings, adding things that are historically interesting," Van Gilder said. "I'll get to come back to Lawrence [after the conference] and talk about my experiences in Paris and hone my skills."