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Jennifer Begakis

Ph.D. Candidate

Jennifer Begakis

Mcgraw Hall, Room 132

Educational Background

The University of California, Berkeley, B.A. 2015.



I am a historian of American capitalism working on the twentieth-century consumer goods economy. I research critical turns in touristic planning from the New Deal to the present. 

Advisor:  Lawrence Glickman


Histories of Capitalism

Strategic Planning

Economic Thought


  • History

Graduate Fields

  • Modern American History
  • History of Capitalism
  • City and Regional Planning


  • Department of City and Regional Planning
  • Cornell AAP


Economic planning and its many failures.  I am interested in histories of economic thought, economic geography, financialization, R&D strategic planning, public-private partnerships, municipal governance, suburbanization, and architectures of commercial consumption.

My dissertation addresses the history of domestic commercial and recreational development as well as large-scale financial planning initiatives for destination tourism. I analyze the making and management of themed experiences, with an emphasis on tensions between innovation and quality control. For my case studies, I examine Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (from the 1940s to the mid-1980s). 

The Best Laid Plans of Mouse and Man; Testing the Limits of Strategic Planning (The Failures of Disney Park Investments from the 1940s into the 1980s) 

The goal of this project is to unpack the history of Disney’s domestic investments and to discover deep intellectual and political implications of large-scale private economic planning throughout the New Deal Era. Including--while not limited to--the impact of R&D, urban design, financial forecasting, and legal strategy. By focusing my research and analysis on the company’s failures and failed investments, my work explores the critical limits of strategic planning for economic development.

For my project, I define recreational development and investments in recreational facilities as any commercial development on private or public lands not chiefly intended for either asset-heavy industry or residential buildout. This includes the construction of facilities and supportive infrastructure for recreational activities and leisure consumption. For the purpose of historical analysis, my definition is consistent with the commercial, recreational development of the time.

The tourism industry-market interaction provides a lens with which to approach histories of city and regional planning ideas and economic development from the 1930s into the 1980s. Moreover, Disney’s failures to plan and/or execute initial plans offer new insight into the history of not only Disney and the Disney parks, but into the histories of commercial and recreational development and economic development more broadly. 

I contend that the failures of strategic planning bring to view a history of capitalism that which stories of successes do not. With that in mind, my dissertation investigates the ideological aspirations, business undertakings, and critical political and economic limits of large-scale strategic planning for the comprehensive development of new fabricated geographies and themed cityscapes.