On a recent Friday, a class of Beloiters and four professors took a field trip to Medieval Times, a theme restaurant in northern Illinois known for serving a whole dinner without utensils, during which patrons are treated to jousting tournaments and horseback stunts. Intrigued?
The excursion was part of a class called Keepin' it Real?: The Pursuit, Defense and Deconstruction of Authenticity, taught this semester by professors Daniel Barolsky (music) and Jennifer Esperanza (anthropology). Funded by a Mellon Foundation Labs Grant, this course explores the concept of authenticity from the perspectives of the humanities and social sciences.
Says Esperanza: “Offered at the 200-level , it is also listed as an Enduring Questions course that prompts students to deconstruct their preconceived notions of fake vs. real, authentic vs. inauthentic, the perceived "genius" of individual authors/artists and how authenticity as a general concept came into being and has been used as a measure of determining cultural, social, and economic value. Over the past semester, we have been investigating the history of the concept and various pursuits of authenticity in the arts and cultural production over time.”
“This month, the class has been reading about and discussing tourism and historical reenactments, especially within the context of modern capitalism and nation-building,” Esperanza says. “In regards to our class discussions on historical reenactments, students are asked to consider the purpose of recreating particular moments in time, how reenactments select particular geographic locales in addition to time periods, and who is the intended audience.”
During the trip, students focused on how the restaurant presents itself, what constitutes authenticity, and to what extent restaurant employees stayed in character.