Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Melissa Bingmann

Committee Co-Chair

Elizabeth Fones-Wolf

Committee Member

Jennifer Thornton

Committee Member

Christopher Cantwell


In this thesis, I demonstrate how Catholic pilgrimage is a public history phenomenon. I define public history as public engagement, understanding, and use of the past. While I assert that pilgrimage is a public history phenomenon both in the past and in the present, my thesis will focus on American Catholic pilgrimage at the turn of the twentieth century. Each individual chapter will demonstrate that through pilgrimage, the faithful are engaged in public history in its various forms. Catholics actively took part in past-making and identity-construction in their roles as pilgrims. Through pilgrimage, Catholics were involved in the preservation and interpretation of tangible forms of heritage. On pilgrimage, pilgrims used intangible heritage practices to engage with cultural landscapes. Pilgrimage is a way of passing down tradition and knowledge, that sustains familial, community, and religious connections.

My research contributes to the genealogical literature of public history by pushing the roots of the discipline outside of the United States and back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Public historians need to seriously consider pilgrimage as an origin of the field and as a site of inquiry. The secularization that came out of the Enlightenment and is inherent within the public history field in the United States strips sacred objects and places of particular histories and meaning. The discipline does the public a disservice by artificially cordoning off religion from historical interpretation and ignoring sites that are significant due to sacredness. Although the collaboration between religious groups and public history professionals may not be clear-cut or simple, it is a valuable partnership that can add nuance, complexity, and sensuality to historic interpretations of religious spaces. The alliance is sure to bear fruit for the pilgrim as well as the tourist.