Dark tourism21 December, 2007
My interest in dark tourism was awakened during a brief holiday in Weimar about ten years ago. I was with a group of British tourists and we agreed, after some discussion, to visit the nearby Buchenwald Concentration Camp site. In trying to come to terms with what was an utterly incongruous ‘tourist attraction’, the germ of an idea for a journal article, eventually to appear in Managing Leisure, began.
I was intrigued by the problem of coping with the visits of both survivors, who needed to remember, and ‘regular’ tourists including school parties, who needed ‘never to forget’. I read up on dissonant heritage (Tunbridge & Ashworth, 1996) and started to consider how the camp site might be interpreted as contested space.
Later I was to visit Mauthausen Camp, an eye-opener as quite a different approach had been adopted. At Mauthausen there is a rare attempt at explaing just how something as incredible as the Holocaust could actually have happened.
A visit to the Maritime Museum in Liverpool and its display on the ‘middle passage’ prompted more thought, visits to other UK centres with displays on slavery, and another article.
Both topics lead me to reflect on issues of identity and ‘whose heritage is it anyway?’
The drift of ‘dark tourism’ lately has been to broaden its scope, a move with which I am not entirely in sympathy. I find it unreasonable to classify the London Dungeons and walking tourswith ghost themes aling with the Holocaust and slavery.
Currently I am writing a book chapter provisionally entitled Genocide Tourism, and recently I contributed to the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past website on ‘1807 Commemorated’, run by the University of York.