World-renowned theme park to be topic of lecture April 15

April 13, 2015 | Events, UToday, — Languages, Literature and Social Sciences
By Lindsay Mahaney

Meeting Mickey is any 6-year-old’s dream, but a visiting professor will explore the stories and creativity that went into making the mouse’s famous theme park.

humanities little talkDr. Ann M. Little, associate professor of history at Colorado State University, will present at the Humanities Institute Annual Lecture Wednesday, April 15, at 5:30 p.m. in the Libbey Hall dining room. A reception will follow the free, public event.

For the past several months, Little has been living in Los Angeles, where she is working on her second book at the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. Her experiences there are the inspiration for her presentation, “Secrets of the Mouse: The Humanities in Unexpected Places.” The talk will focus on the popular Southern California theme park Disneyland and ways in which it took inspiration from the humanities.

“When you look at the various sub-theme areas of the park — Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Adventureland and New Orleans Square, for example — it’s clear that they’re all built on centuries of scholarship in the humanities,” she said. “What is Fantasyland if not a series of stories built on the folklore of the Schwarzwald [the Black Forest], such as those of the Brothers Grimm? What is Frontierland without a deep knowledge of the history of the American West? And could the Disney Imagineers have imagined Tomorrowland without science-fiction writers like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Gene Roddenberry to show us the way?”

Little has found many aspects of the humanities prevalent in the Hollywood and Silicon Valley cultures, but few people realize it.

“It has occurred to me that Hollywood and Silicon Valley would have nothing to produce were it not for the humanities, because when we think of just about any popular entertainment — whether on TV, in the movies, books, video games, or even major amusement parks — it’s all grounded in the humanities.”

Though her travels have taken her elsewhere, Little’s roots are in northwest Ohio. As a Sylvania Southview High School alumna, Little calls Toledo home. However, she found when she left the area, many people were prejudiced toward the Midwestern states.

Her advice: “Never be ashamed of where you’re from, and never assume that you’re the country bumpkin. Chances are you’ll know at least as much or more about the world than they’ll know about you, and that will be to your advantage.”

Little is the author of Abraham in Arms: War and Gender in Colonial New England and is working on her second title, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright. She also writes about history and feminism on her blog at

In addition to speaking at UT, she will teach a history class the evening before her talk.

In its second year, the lecture series is part of the recently revamped Humanities Institute in the College of Languages, Literature and Social Sciences, which advocates for and supports the study of human culture — its literature languages, arts, history, philosophy, folklore and religion.

“The goal of this lecture series is to talk broadly about what the humanities are, why they are important to higher education and to our lives, and why we should continue to value them,” said Dr. Christina Fitzgerald, director of the institute and English professor. “It echoes the mission of the institute itself — to advocate for and support the work of humanities researchers. But whereas our other events feature UT faculty and community members, this event brings in someone from outside to broaden the scope of the conversation.”

Fitzgerald said that she felt Little was a good choice because she can connect with history specialists, but also a wider audience, which she does regularly through her blog.

“This lecture series is broadly about the value and importance of the humanities — although speakers can take that from any angle, including with reference to their own research — and Professor Little is very good at defending the humanities, especially in a public institution context,” Fitzgerald said.

For more information, contact the Humanities Institute at 419.530.4407 or

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