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Release: Oct. 2, 2000

Oct. 7 Saturday Scholars lecture explores roller coaster ride into 20th century

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The flashing lights, pulsing sounds, racing rides, and teeming crowds at early 20th century amusement parks helped prepare Americans for fast-paced city life and new technologies they would encounter as the century progressed. Lauren Rabinovitz, a University of Iowa professor of American studies and cinema and comparative literature, will explain the connection between amusement parks and modern America in her presentation, "Yesteryear's Wonderlands: How Amusement Parks Introduced Modernism to America" on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 10 a.m. in Room 40, Schaeffer Hall. The program, part of the UI College of Liberal Arts "Saturday Scholars" series, is free and open to the public.

Using a wealth of audio-visual materials, Rabinovitz will illustrate how the more than 2,000 amusement parks in the United States in the early 1900s taught middle and working class Americans in urban and rural settings alike how to adjust to the new century.

Asked to explain how amusement parks prepared Americans for modern life, Rabinovitz has one word: "Overstimulation." The sensory bombardment people experienced in amusement parks was similar to the lights and noise and chaos dominating city life, she said.

"Amusement parks helped as new technologies invaded their lives in a variety of ways," she said. "People were used to machinery as being pleasurable and fun, so the lights and noise in the cities start to seem normal."

This was true for both rural and urban dwellers, Rabinovitz said. Iowans, too, adjusted to modern life with the help of amusement parks in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Sioux City, and Keokuk. Her presentation will include photos from some of these early Iowa amusement parks, including Ingersoll Park in Des Moines, Alamo Park in Cedar Rapids, and Electric Park in Waterloo.

Rabinovitz is chair of the American studies department in the UI College of Liberal Arts. She is currently director of "Yesteryear's Wonderlands: Introducing Modernism to America," a multimedia educational project in development and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. She is the author of several books and articles, including "For the Love of Pleasure: Women, Movies, and Culture in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago" (1998).

"Saturday Scholars," developed by Linda Maxson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, gives members of the public a chance to hear about the latest teaching and research innovations by professors in the college. The sessions last about an hour, including a 20-30 minute presentation followed by time for questions. Refreshments are served. Future lectures in the series are scheduled for Oct. 14 and 21. All presentations begin at 10 a.m. in Room 40, Schaeffer Hall, the southeast building on the UI Pentacrest.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact College of Liberal Arts in advance at 335-2610.