Pages to Pilgrimages
Guest Post by Sarah Gothie
Have you been ‘moved’ by the works of L.M. Montgomery? Not just emotionally, but physically?
Each year, thousands of fans embark on pilgrimages to see for themselves the places Montgomery wrote about. Pages to Pilgrimages is a digital research initiative that invites L.M. Montgomery fans from around the world to share stories and photos of their travels to Green Gables Heritage Place, the Site of L.M. Montgomery's Cavendish Home, and other special locations on Prince Edward Island (and beyond). Whether the visit occurred a half a century ago, or just yesterday, all Montgomery pilgrims are welcome to share their stories.
Like so many children of the 1980s, I grew up reading the Anne books and watching the Sullivan Entertainment film adaptations. I yearned to visit the settings of these cherished stories, but couldn’t imagine making the twenty-one hour car journey from Pennsylvania. It wasn’t until my 29th birthday that I finally flew to Prince Edward Island for a weeklong vacation.
A few years later, I found myself writing a doctoral dissertation about literary tourism, and I selected Green Gables Heritage Place for my museum studies practicum. Working as a visitor experience intern at this iconic heritage site, my perspective shifted—I was seeing Montgomery tourism behind-the-scenes, through the lens of my museum studies training. I shadowed site staff, immersed myself in the content of curatorial and interpretive documents, and assisted with frontline visitor service. Visitors would tell me compelling stories about what brought them to the Island, and how they were visiting after years—even decades—of longing. Some were visiting with childhood best friends; many others, with mothers or grandmothers. Some were using the PEI trip to mark a honeymoon, anniversary, or birthday. It was a privilege to witness, every day, people achieving a long-held dream. The small comment cards in the visitor reception centre weren’t capturing a full enough picture of this important aspect of Montgomery’s legacy: her ability to ‘move’ people, not just emotionally, but across land and sea.
I created the Pages to Pilgrimages collection so that I could understand the expectations pilgrims bring and the satisfactions they discover, why a childhood desire to visit PEI persists into adulthood for so many Montgomery fans, and how tourist stories might expand our understanding of Montgomery’s multifaceted literary legacy. I’m especially interested in pilgrims’ most memorable moments—such as an object or landscape that resonated, or a spectacular sunset they witnessed. The online questionnaire consists of demographic questions followed by a few open-ended prompts where the participant can describe their pilgrimage experience. The submitted stories and photos will ultimately be transferred to the University of Prince Edward Island's Robertson Library, where they can be useful to future scholars seeking to understand the unique experiences of Montgomery fans.
By contextualizing the stories of diverse visitors with my own ‘insider’ knowledge of Green Gables and insights from academic fields including literary and tourism studies, heritage practice, and the social sciences, I aim to enrich the experience of a Montgomery pilgrimage for past, present, and future pilgrims. I invite all of the LMMI’s followers to follow the project on social media—@pages2pilgrimages on Facebook and Instagram—and to share their pilgrimage stories at www.pages2pilgrimages.org!
Sarah Conrad Gothie completed her PhD in American Culture, with a Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies, at the University of Michigan. She holds MA degrees in Popular Culture and in Literary Studies, and a BA in English. Dr. Gothie teaches a range of humanities courses at Moore College of Art & Design and Penn State University (Harrisburg). Her research focuses on literary tourism, culinary history/heritage, and trends in 21st century domesticity. Recent scholarly publications include articles about Anne of Green Gables tourism (Tourist Studies, 2016) and about hipsters and taxidermy (Home Cultures, 2015), as well as a textbook chapter about the challenges of representing food in museums (The Food & Folklore Reader, 2015). As an independent scholar, she has written a culinary history of damson plums (Damsons: An Ancient Fruit in the Modern Kitchen, Prospect Books, 2018), and she is currently drafting a book-length work about literary pilgrimages inspired by the writings of L.M. Montgomery. More about her literary tourism research may be found at www.pages2pilgrimages.org and on Facebook and Instagram: @pages2pilgrimages
Photo copyright, Sarah Gothie