Tourism and memory

> Par Rapson, Jessica
   King’s College, London
> Published on : 21.04.2015

Experience of place significantly informs the way in which the past is understood in the present day. When Maurice Halbwachs introduced the notion of collective memory (1925), he noted the way in which social groups are constantly involved in a process of “implacement”; collectives are partly constituted by collaborative experiences of place, thus rendering it a key component of collective memory. Landscapes are frequently perceived to function as archives of human history and experience; this perhaps explains the “pull” of sites of memory, for the act of physical travel can be seen to stand in for something we cannot do: to travel back into the past itself.

Memory tourism has been of increasing interest to scholars across the social sciences and humanities, producing comprehensive work on the role heritage institutions and commemorative landscapes play in mediating processes of individual and collective memory and identity (Lowenthal 1985; Samuel 1994; Young 1994). Considerable scholarship on “Dark Tourism” (Foley & Lennon 2000; see also Ashworth & Graham 2005; Sharpley & Stone 2009; Logan & Reeves 2009) examines visits to sites of death, suffering, disaster and violence (although not all types of “dark tourism” or associated scholarship directly concerns either memory or commemoration) and has produced detailed typologies of “dark tourism” practices. Other terms employed include “thanatourism” (Seaton 1996), which places a more explicit focus on the contemplation of death. Contributions from disciplines beyond tourism studies, including anthropology and cultural studies (MacDonald 2008), literary criticism and travel writing (Jones 2007), social and cultural geography (Charlesworth & Addis 2002; Keil 2005; Hughes 2008) and historiography (Gilbert 1999) provide alternative perspectives.

There is considerable diversity within this field, although tourism to sites related to the Nazi Holocaust has arguably received the most substantial attention (in line with much other work on memory and commemoration in recent decades). Tourism to post-genocide Cambodia and Rwanda are also the subject of increasing scrutiny, and albeit to a lesser extent, to former Yugoslavia and Armenia. However, substantial works on sites of internment, suffering or injustice in, for example, Latin America, South Africa and Northern Ireland, have also appeared in recent years, as have contributions on battlefield and war tourism and sites of nuclear disaster and terrorism. Issues discussed – both in “dark tourism” scholarship and on memory and tourism more generally – include visitor motivation and experiences of “authenticity”, and the potential moral and pedagogical value of particular sites.


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