The interest of tourists in death, disaster and atrocity is undeniable (Lennon and Foley, 2000). Dark sites are fashionable: tourists rush to visit Père Lachaise, San Vicente, or Highgate cemeteries (The Guardian, 2005), in-flight magazines talk of the "joy of prison museums" (Strange and Kempa, 2003), the Lonely Planet tipped the two post-conflict destinations, Belfast and Beirut, as "must-see" cities in 2007 (The Guardian, 2006). The list of such examples would be endless. This interest in death, disaster and atrocity is an area that has not been researched until recently; as a consequence, the terminology used differs according to the authors. Seaton (1996) called it "thanatourism", which is explained as "travel to a location wholly, or partially, motivated by the desire for actual or symbolic encounters with death, particularly, but not exclusively, violent death". Seaton also divides "thanatourism" in the five categories of activities. In this document, we find answers to questions like: To what extent should collections or heritage sites deal with those aspects of the past which the society is less happy to remember? What issues need to be taken into consideration when presenting the heritage of inhumanity trough objects or sites?
[...] Some museums carried out a high quality work. The British Museum, for instance, presents “La Bouche du Roi” of Romuald Hazoumé from Benin. The use of this artwork is an interesting approach, because, first, it is the point of view of an African, and second, it shows how the past plays with the present. This artwork emphasizes the fact that the African slaves were not passive victims, and that slave trade may have never ended. Third, Lennon and Foley (2000) highlight the key role of the media in fuelling the public interest in death and disaster. [...]
[...] The museum managers are in control of only three factors out of eight: organisation and orientation, design and to some extent facilitated mediation. The author experienced an unpleasant situation while visiting the Imperial War Museum. A group of three skinheads was wandering in the Holocaust Exhibition laughing at what they were seeing. Does the museum have the power to educate that kind of visitor? It seems unlikely since their motivations, prior knowledge and group context go against. This is an extreme example. [...]
[...] In the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, visitors are given a racial classification randomly and experience the museum from that point of view (Swarns, 2001). The Imperial War Museum in London invites its visitors to two experiences. The “Trench Experience” plunges the visitor in a battlefield of World War I with the help of sounds, smells and gun flashes, etc. (Walsh, 1992). The “Blitz Experience” offers a jump into World War II: the visitors live an air raid sitting in an Anderson shelter (Lennon and Foley, 2000). [...]
[...] and ASHWORTH, G.J. (1996) Dissonant heritage : the management of the past as a resource in conflict. Chicester : Wiley UZZELL, D. (1989) Heritage interpretation. Vol., the natural and built environment. London : Belhaven UZZELL, D. (1989) Heritage interpretation. Vol.2, the visitor experience. London : Belhaven WALSH, K. (1992) The representation of the past : museums and heritage in the post modern world. London : Routledge YOUNG, J. E. [...]
[...] Uzzel defines interpretation as a “set of communication techniques of varying degrees of effectiveness in varying situations which can be used to get particular messages across to particular group of people.” (1992 : in Wight : 123) Freeman Tilden, seen as the “pope” of interpretation said that the first aim of interpretation wasn't “instruction but provocation” (1977). The interpretation of dark sites have no difficulty to provoke their visitor, nonetheless, it raises several issues. How do you help the visitor to make sense of such horrors? [...]
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