Alan Machin's blog - March 2009
['Nominal' by a date means that the posting was made within a few days of the date ahown. The date itself acts as the unique index for the posting]
For more postings on Dark Tourism click here!
Dark Tourism - A Comment
From tourism alumna ST
"Just a quick email to let you know how fantastic it was to read your thoughts on dark tourism, especially your entry of 11/03/09 and the ten places that children should visit. I am a little sceptical as to the venues you have stated, maybe like you I could change my mind. The reason for my scepticism is that only recently my daughter visited the Royal Armouries [in Leeds] with her school. On her return she posed an interesting question in the car on the way home, about the weaponry artifacts on display, "oh my god, I cant believe that people want to see such things" and then the discussion went on and on and on, mainly about how horrible it would have been to live in times of war.
I wonder at times is it really necessary for my children to learn about the atrocities of nations that are now our friends, and do I want my children to think that they were part of a nation that has a very embarrassing past? The question about dark tourism arises yet again: is it necessary?"
Another Children's Story Puzzler
Yesterday's posting about finding one of Garry Hogg's children's stories reminds of an even bigger puzzle. In the late 1940s or early '50s I had a children's story book about Malta during the early days of the Second World War. It was the first time I had heard of the country that I would, around fifty years later, get to know very well through teaching on residential visits. I would love to find the book.
I have no idea of the title, author or publisher. Several people are beginning to ring around old folk's homes to find if they have vacancies as they wonder how my memory is these days. The book might have been called "Faith, Hope and Charity", but it was not Kenneth Poolman's book of that name which was a staright historical account of a similar period. It wasn't "Air Spies Over Malta", another children's adventure story about the islands which involved aircraft and enemy operatives. It was about the three Gloster Gladiators nicknamed Faith, Hope and Charity which for a short period were the only aircraft defending Malta against what would become one of the greatest sieges of modern times. Some children were the main characters, but I don't remember their names either. The only other detail that stuck in my mind beyond the story of danger and deprivation during the attacks on the islands was the mention of geckoes, the little lizards which can be found all over the rocky landscape. And yes, I know that the aircraft and the gecko above aren't the kind that were part of the story.
I have tried ABE Books and other web sites, asked book searchers to look out for it, and spoken with a specialist in children's books who is based in Malta. None of my friends and contacts in the country know of it. I guess it was a run-of-the-press adventure published in Britain and probably centred around English, rather than Maltese, people, so might be unknown over there for that reason. But it would be very interesting, as well as nostalgic, to find out how it presented the country and its story in the days when it was part of Britain's possessions abroad. Anyone with information - please email me!
Some time ago I posted a message about Garry Hogg's 'Explorer' books written in the 1930s - see above. These were children's stories about two sets of twins (as usual!) and their uncle who explored parts of Britain on foot, bicycles or by boat. I had also come across Secret Orders by Garry Hogg. In that story three teenagers took up a challenge by their uncle to follow a series of clues left by him in locations around England. When each clue was solved it gave the location of the next one - the 'secret orders' - rather like a treasure hunt. Pen, Nat and Jonty followed the trail by bike and had adbentures along the way to solving the sequence. As a prize their uncle had offered a holiday in Europe, and Hogg said at the end of Secret Orders that it would be the next book. At that time I had no idea what it was called and a trawl of that excellent secondhand book web site ABE Books for the author's works came up with no sign of the book. Today, however, Stephen Fletcher emailed me from Cornwall with the following:
"In the article, you mentioned the suggestion of a follow up to "Sealed Orders". I read Sealed Orders at school (in about 1964) and then followed this with all the "Explorers". When my own children came along, I acquired from a second hand book service, "Sealed Orders", "Awheel" and " On the Wall". Additionally I found "Secret of the Shuttered Lodge" and "Houseboat Holiday" both with the same sort of sketch maps. These books were bedtime stories for the children over many years and even now, when they are 27, and 29, they can still remember some of the phrases.
The answer to your query re the follow up is that he did publish one. It was called "Norwegian Holiday" and followed the story of Pen, Nat and Jonty on the holiday they won for completing the task in "Sealed orders. I read it when I was at school but I have not seen it since".
Armed with Stephen's welcome information as to the title I went back to ABE Books and found it - one copy, with Gemini Books of Shrewsbury. So now it's on the way and I will find out just what Garry Hogg made in 1952 of a children's adventure story set in Norway.
So many thanks to Stephen - another small mystery solved!
The Tourism Industry, The Recession And School Teaching
One of our very first Leeds Met Tourism Management students sent me a question this week that I know other people are thinking about. She has worked in the tourism industry for some time but is 'between jobs' at a time of recession and job scarcity:
"I'd be grateful for your advice.... a long time ago, in a far away land, I was, amongst others, a guinea-pig at LMU with yourself for Tourism Management & Spanish ..... I'm looking at potentially doing a PGCE to be able to teach either Geography in Secondary school, or, maybe Travel & Tourism.... I have the GCSEs and the degree of course......what are your thoughts, advice?"
It seems worth sharing my reply, limited though it may be:
"I'd have two thoughts. The first is that you could do a PGCE and not necessarily go in to teaching. It would give time to decide whether that was the life for you (or at least, part of a life!) and to be looking around at alternatives.
The second is perhaps the one that demands a cool nerve. Teaching can be rewarding (in university, definitely) especially in junior schools. Secondary schools I'm not so sure about. I enjoyed my two years in one - many years ago when life was different in those schools - but from what I have seen since I would be very choosy where I went. I was not impressed by the system in what was one of [town X's] good schools, though I was only seeing a less able group of children. Is the classroom where you want to be given your wider view of the world through your experience? It might be that you can take that experience into schools and find passing it on very satisfying. Or it might be frustrating if the children are uninterested and misbehave.
The cool nerve bit is that if teaching isn't for you really, really, then don't go near it: keep a cool nerve and keep looking for the thing that is you.
On the other hand, even though you dip a toe in the educational pond, you don't have to paddle about it in forever if you find it's a cold little world.
Good luck! And keep me in the loop about what you decide to do".
What do you think about 'Dark Tourism'? Which places would you have on a list and why? Click here to let me know.
Dark Tourism: Good Old Days Or Doleful Days?
The live-actor event as shown above has been mentioned in an earlier posting about the use of theatre in museums. This was the Black Country Museum last year. A 'policeman' has arrived to deal with a disturbance by 'local people' in the street recreation at the heart of the open air site.
Dark Tourism might be to do with death and murder, but I suspect that two possible motivations for visiting historic recreations have a relevance to it. This scene was of the early twentieth century. Let's leave aside all questions about authenticity and the strange mix of modern visitor with century-old settings and drama characters. Over more than 30 years I have taken visitors to see this kind of recreation. Some were students, most were adults on local history weekend visits, a few were relatives. Talking with them it looked pretty clear that there were two reasons why they found the experiences interesting apart from satisfying their curiosity about what happened in the past. The two reasons blend into each other. The first was that people were interested in things that were familar and yet had gone from their lives: old-fashioned high street shops with the kind of products which once met our daily needs - beef dripping, patent cure-all medicines, old-style clothing, that kind of thing. Shop doors opened with a tinkling bell to summon an assistant who found things for you and measured out quantities of the required goods. Streets had few vehicles; they were often cobbled with brick pavements. Industry might be in small factories and workshops. This kind of scene brought back memories or served to illustrate in three dimensions with smells and sounds the kind of world our parents and grandparenets showed us about. It might have been a safer place to some. We would call this feeling one of nostalgia, a word that in this context is often the subject of much critical abuse.
The other motivation - and to some extent I think it was a hidden motivation that could sometimes be glimpsed but was often not recognised - was that our visitors looked back at a different way of life and saw not only the comfortingly familiar world of childhood but also one limited in terms of those very same consumer goods to the basics, without the fashions, range and technological innovations that we love today, from cars to computers. They also saw outdoor lavatories, low hygiene standards (Saturday night baths which took time to prepare and often whole families to organise) with houses woefully lacking in cleaning accessories or detergents. Industry often meant dangerous conditions, long hours, with levels of noise and pollution which took their toll on the people working in them for very low wages. Attitudes might be better - supposedly stronger feelings of community and caring for each other - but people had to know their place, were often subjected to socities with narrow outlooks in terms of politics, religion and culture. I heard visitors say with delight that famous cry of delighted recognition "oh, we had one of those" when they saw something familiar in a museum, but afterwards in reflecting on those days: "I wouldn't like to live like that today". And of course younger visitors, eyes opened to what older generations had, could be quite disparaging. And often right.
Life expectancy in those days was shorter by many years. The aspirations of younger people were often cut down dead by the requirements of family life and society's strictures. For those who see that kind of world depicted in museums, it's dark tourism alright.
Dark Tourism: The Death of Diana
The Flame of Liberty sculpture above the entrance to the underpass at the Pont de lAlma in Paris is a gift from the International Herald Tribune to the people of Paris. It is a replica, covered in gold leaf, of the torch in the hand of the Statue of Liberty in New York. But it has become a symbol like the eternal flame on JFKs grave at Arlington [see previous posting], this time however to the British Princess Diana. Dark Tourism is largely about visiting sites related to death. It was here that Diana met with the accident that killed her. The site has become an attraction. Flowers, slogans and pictures of Diana have been added to the pedestal of the flame and the parapet of the underpass.
Some of our tourism management students have tried through their assignments to find out why it is that people visit places like this. Its a difficult task since it is a sensitive subject and many people may not know, appreciate exactly, or in fact want to express to a stranger what their deeper reasons are.
Its easy to make broad statements about events like the death of Diana and the events that followed. Was it about heartfelt grief at the loss of a beautiful, caring woman? Or was that characterisation of her false, a public relations and media creation? Was it a tragic episode in an unfolding soap opera about a dysfunctional royal family trapped within an out-dated social system? Or an escapist fairy tale that filled column inches in celebrity mags? Did some kind of national hysteria, as some suggested at the time, overcome otherwise sensible people under the influence of political and media image-makers? Dark tourism may have dark motivations on the part of the visitors and indeed of those who create memorials and exhibits. Examining motivations could tell us much about the human psyche, but the examination itself is a difficult process.
Dark Tourism: Lenin
Against the walls of the Kremlin in Moscow stands the tomb of the revolutonary Russian leader, Lenin, lit by the summer sun. The photo is 45 years old. In 1964 I was on a round-Europe tour which included eastern European countries at the height of the cold war. I booked with Swan Hellenic: they had to work through Thomas Cook's as the only British operator allowed to arrange group visits through the Russian agency, Intourist. Individuals were not allowed to wander away from the escorted activities. Another party had a visitor who did so and who unwittingly took photographs of a factory on some kind of secret list: on hearing of the misdemenour that group was stopped for six hours at the border leaving Russia. Not knowing who the culprit was the border guards opened cameras, exposed film to the light and tore pages from diaries. The signs of a strict regime were all around - figures at night appeared from the shadows offering to buy black market cigarettes and clothing. No-one knew if these were genuine offers or potential police traps. The huge store, GUM, looked like a bureaucracy which might just sell you a loaf if you were persistent enough with the system. Walk on the grass in the Kremlin and a dumpy old lady in a headscarf would blow a whistle from across the green and reprimand you for disobeying the don't-walk-on-the-grass rule.
Red Square, the Kremlin and Lenin's tomb were then what they still are: icons of a political system unchanged since Tsarist days - central control exterted through state powerful state machines. We saw the long queues and marching guards which were part of the ritual of worshipping Lenin's embalmed body in its glass museum-case. Religious or secular, the elements are the same: people making journeys, waiting in line, passing heavy security systems; some moments encountering the subject of their gaze before having to make way for the next few hundred to pass through the process.
To a western world the reds on the Square represented an enemy threatening freedom and democracy. The Muscovites presumably saw the visiting tourists as ideological children, children who needed the education of the tomb and its occupant to point them towards a peoples' democracy and freedom. To them it was a sacred site. To the west it was a darker place. Can somewhere be dark and light at the same time? Yes, because the shining light or the shadows exist in the mind of the beholder, switched one way or another according to existing beliefs and the iconography of the place.
Dark Tourism: John F Kennedy
The long postwar years of American innocence and self-confidence came to a shattering end on November 23, 1963 when President John F Kennedy was shot dead. Two other preseidents had died to the hands of assassins before that. World Wars had been fought and won and the Korean war at least staggered to an end. Then for over a decade the country seemed to be bathed in the glow of prosperity and peace. Of course that was only a partial truth. The stain of racism spread wide and deep, mainly in the south. The Cold War replaced the real conflicts of Europe and Asia, threatening nuclear annihilation and a Soviet Russian ally seemed to threaten the heart of the nation from its very doorstep. Murders ran at a high rate. And then it was a murder which brought the days of false self-confidence to an end.
Kennedy died in Dallas as he and his wife and the Governor of Texas rode in an open car through the city. A gunman struck him down; as the news was flashed around the world it was heard in the kind of shocked horror which meant that, as everyone said for years after, people always remembered where they were when they heard what had happened.
Kennedy rests in a grave at Arlington National Cemetery next to other family members, including his brother Bobby, also assassinated, five years later. Lennon and Foley, in their book Dark Tourism, describe the site as a kind of theme park for tourists to arrive, spend a few minutes taking photographs, and then move on to the next stop on their itinerary. I can't agree. Arlington is a moving experience and the Kennedy grave particularly so, especially to anyone who remembers the events of 1963. The eternal flame is copied from other national cemeteries, but is no less meaningful, and in any case is an ancient symbol of eternal memories from temples and churches and memorials in many countries where candles are lit by pilgrims and visitors. The carved quotations from some of JFK's speeches, which were considered at the time fresh and inspiring in a way similar to those of Barack Obama today, are fitting remembrances. Kennedy raised hopes to a high level in the dark days of the cold war even if in Vietnam he sowed the seeds of a futile and misguidedly tragic conflict and did not complete the delivery of much-needed reforms at home.
Cemeteries, visited by the curious and the contemplative, are always the focus of dark shadows in human existence and its endings. By definition, then, this is dark tourism, but that is not the same as commercialised tourism.
Dark Tourism: Further Thoughts
Further thoughts to the previous posting:
It was only chance that led me to list English sites and none from elsewhere in the British Isles. My criteria, such as they were, included the choosing of nearby places and no thought about any overseas - not in this set, anyway. It's a thought, though, that for Londoners it might be easier to include some sites across the Channel rather than in Scotland or Ireland, even North Wales. Proximity has some part to play. I also included places that I know myself, with the exception of the St Thomas's Hospital operating theatre, which must now be high on my list of places to see. Finally, I looked for places which have more than a sense of place, but have media on-site to interpret for visitors what is there to see - a visitor centre, interpretive panels, wayside exhibits, that kind of thing.
Meanwhile, before someone ticks me off for ignoring the Celtic fringes, here are a two more which are in those areas;
The Peace Wall, Belfast: now a tourist attraction to be written on with slogans and comments. A high, soaring structure of concrete and chain link fencing, marked in places with the flames of fire bombs, it separates communities divided by religion and politics but united in anger and, at least in the past, aggression.
Slate workings, Blaenau, North Wales: with the National Museum of Wales' Quarrying Museum here, the mountains made by nature are joined by those made by man, grey and challenging. At worst it is a place of rain and abandoned workings, at best the spectacle of an awe-inspiring landscape amongst the mountains.
Dark Tourism: Lessons From History
Yesterday's posting about Auschwitz mentioned the requirement on German schools to make sure all their pupils visit a concentation camp as some point.
It made me think - what would be my list of ten places all UK children should visit? (I hate these lists really and would probably want to change this one every week according to my latest thoughts). On a rather quick thought - and noting that this list should stand alongside one of at least ten 'positive' places - light tourism contrasting with dark .... here goes with the first thoughts about them:
1 The Imperial War Museum, London: hardly a celebration, more a sobering regret
2 HMS Victory and HMS Warrior, Portsmouth: so long as you look beyond the stories of national flag-waving and romantic adventures to see the realities of deafening noise and wholesale, bloody, slaughter on overcrowded, smelly, wooden ships lurching and swaying on the oceans ....
3 The American War Cemetery near Madingley, Cambridgeshire: the sheer numbers of ranks and rows of graves overcome the beautiful setting to remind visitors of the effects of war
4 The servant's quarters at Tatton Park mansion, Cheshire: which some people would not see as dark tourism at all, but which brings out the contrast with the life 'above stairs' of the owners of the house
5 Southwell Workhouse, Nottinghamshire: the National Trust property which served as a model for the harsh, puishing form of Victorian social 'care'
6 The operating theatre preserved at St Thomas's Hospital, london: surgery as theatre in the round without the trappings of technology and hygiene that we consider essential to operations
7 Southwell Workhouse, Nottinghamshire: the National Trust property which served as a model for the harsh, puishing form of Victorian social 'care'
8 The operating theatre preserved at St Thomas's Hospital, london: surgery as theatre in the round without the trappings of technology and hygiene we consider essential to operation
9 Ironbridge, Shropshire, especially the Open Air Museum at Blists Hill: the coming of industry displayed in the Ironbridge Gorge Museums and at Blists Hill a 'recreation' of part of a town of around 1900. Other museums - Beamish, County Durham, and the Black Country Museum, Wolverhampton, are also strong illustrators of the industrial theme, and Wigan Pier has a theatrical approach. Yet in all of them the air is clean, hygiene and safety must be maintained and people have to be attracted to see what was often a repulsive way of life.
10 The National Mining Museum in Wakefield: going underground and hearing the stories told by ex-miners of how they worked the coalfaces goes to the heart of what fuelled both industry and politics for centuries
Dark Tourism: Concentration Camp
Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest Nazi concentration camp and seems to be the focus for students who decide they want to study dark tourism. Each year on the Leeds Metropolitan University Tourism Management courses at least one student will choose the general topic and Auschwitz is usually the focus. Given varying levels of knowledge of history these it is noticeable just how much this camp figures in the popular imagination - at least by ours groups. Is that the result of TV feeds like the History Channel regularly featuring documentaries on the Nazis?
Generally the students want to understand the motivations of people visiting Auschwitz. That's very difficult to do - some colleagues would say impossible, others would say it can be done but in a limited way only and perhaps only by using indirect methods - looking at tour leaflets, talking to operators and the few people they can find who have been. You can't conduct research easily (even, at all) on the spot, at least not of a kind that would produce in-depth, representative results. Some observation, some informal discussions, are probably the limits achievable. Analysing on-site interpretation might give clues to what people are interested in - but who is to say that the material answers what people are wanting to find out? The observation of people's behaviour when walking round might produce some useful information but that can be inconsequential or misleading. Some years back I had a student who accompanied a coach party visiting the Imperial War Museum in London. she was wondering what their motivations were - a mainly elderly party with a good measure of experience of war or the military. She spent a day with them including the travelling to and from London to Surrey, and was able to talk in some detail to the party. Can that be done with a place like Auschwitz? Yes, but the chance to do so must be quite rare.
And yet this is a central question in the matter of dark tourism. Why do people go to a site like this? A wish to understand history? All German schoolchildren must visit a concentration camp by law, I'm told, in order to understand their country's past. A need to relate to a previous generation of Jewish people (or of others who died there besides Jews) by people with the same religion? Or a desire to see how Auschwitz has been presented - the nature of the messages communicated and the choice by the Polish authorities of what has been destroyed and what preserved or replicated? Or ... a wish to find reasons to support a revisionist argument that the camp was not the place of extermination on the scale that actually happened there - a wish by some modern neo-Nazi to deny the holocaust or excuse its very nature?
As a side issue, and not having seen Auschwitz myself, I understand that you can buy postcard photos and books but not take your own photos on site. It's readily understandable that the site managers want to reduce the 'touristy' nature of visits in favour of what they see as a more 'respectful' approach. But if there is a ban on photography, it seems a mistake since the place exists today as a warning about inhumanity and the spreading of photographs taken by visitors - of what they see in the camp - would spread the message much further. Taking photos of other visitors stood in front of a gas chamber would be too much, reducing the site to a place existing for the benefit of tourist egos rather than better understanding. Other attractions, with little of the dark tourism element about them, allow photos of things like museum artefacts but prevent (by the rapid arrival of watchful attendants) the taking of photos of your family or friends in front of those objects: the National
Museum of Archaeology in Athens is a good example. That could be done at Auschwitz. And I'm sure a discrete photo of someone in silent contemplation of what they find at Auschwitz would be an effective and moving reminder of its horrifyingly dark past.
Dark Tourism: Sensational Murder
There's nothing darker and scarier than a horrifying murder. It's especially so if it happens close to home. In 1888 the notorious series of unsolved murders of women in the Whitechapel area of London sent a shiver of fear down the backs of the whole population. The gruesome, butchering style of each attack led the press of the day to name the unknown assailant 'Jack the Ripper'. Although the murders ceased the identity of the perpetrator has never been proved, despite claims over the years since that it was this man or that. Arguments have been put forward for people ranging from a member of the royal family to the most common footpad who walked Whitechapel's streets.
Dark Tourism is that which is related to death and disaster. The Jack the Ripper episodes certainly come into that category along with the legacy of warfare and terrorism. Arguably, though, there are shades of darkness, a theme to be explored in later postings. Mutilated women were the result of these murders. There have been plenty of serial killings and mass murders ever since human beings eveolved and there doubtless will continue to be such events. But some go hardly noticed, at least to the eye of history once the events are over and effects have been dissipated. As history has to be written down, recorded or filmed, those murders which do not cause a media sensation will be forgotten by all except those immediately affected. It's likely that serial killers will become more widely reported than those who bring death to people all in one action, since the press gets drawn in to a story, builds it up over time, speculates and warns of further events to come. Other stories last because the media return to them daily, weekly, for other reasons. No-one even knows whether Madelaine McCann was murdered, yet the publicity surrounding the child's disappearance in Portugal has raised world-wide attention because of interest in the media, speculating on the nature of the crime and the possible person or persons who caused it. A mass murder such as the World Trade Centre atrocities happened and has gone, but knowledge of it persists for very obvious reasons. The common thread between all these events is the scale of what happened tied in with the resulting level of reporting. Whether or not some form of visiting of a site - in some organised form or not (in other words, qualifying for the descriptive phrase 'dark tourism') is the the outcome of other factors: demand, acceptability and the decision of someone or other to apply some form of organisation to the activity. Someone visiting a place where murderous deeds were done will receive some sort of understanding of the meaning and significance of the events, right or wrong, illuminating or not. Visitors move on from passive readers and viewers of the media to explorers of the place, adding the possibility - it cannot be more than that as a general effect -of greater understanding. It's a case of travelling to understand the meaning and significance of some event or way of life - the M&S of Jack the Ripper being just one particular example.
Dark Tourism: In The Eye Of The Beholder
This is the Tomb of the Unknowns at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, USA. The solitary soldier who guards the sarcophagus and graves of three unknown US military personnel is being replaced by a new sentry. The tomb was first established in 1921 using the same methods as that in Westminster Abbey, London, the year before: the unidentified body of a soldier chosen at random was interred there to represent all the military personnel who died in the First World War. After the Second World War, the Korean and the Vietnamese War further remains were buried in graves alongside. Apparently, however, the body from the Vietnamese War was exhumed and identified using DNA testing and re-buried elsewhere, leaving the vault empty.
At intervals during the day the Honour Guard is replaced by a new soldier and the customary inspection and drill routine is carried out. The visitors present are asked to stand during the short ceremony. Then the guard commences regular marching up and down in fron of the tomb.
Compared with the Westminster Abbey site this one is openly militaristic in style. The Abbey, as a church, has no soldiers marching, even though it has memorials and flags from the military. The grave, lettered in gold on black marble and edged with a border of poppies, is primarily a focus of quiet reflection. So, it seems to me, is the Arlington Cemetery, except that at this tomb the military rituals overcome the reflection that is dominant all around.
Different visitors will react in different ways. Old and young, American and non-American, militarily connected or always civilian, those who view the Arlington tomb will see different meaning and significances according to their own viewpoints - their own interpretation. This version of M&S is the key to knowing whether the place is dark or light - symbolic of wars as tragedies or as expressions of national sacrifice for great causes.
The question in yesterday's posting - the connection between M&S and Jack the Ripper - might be about to be made clear.
For more postings on Dark Tourism click here!
Dark Tourism - Back In The Light
After a gap in postings ... standing-in for a colleague, taken ill, when I give a lecture for him next week on Dark Tourism and Sacred Sites, brings the opportunity to examine further the subject of Dark Tourism. It's a popular phrase that catches the imagination, but does it really have any useful meaning? I have my doubts. Fresh light will be shed ... (OK, OK, enough of the overworked metaphors. Meanwhile, what has M&S got to do with Jack the Ripper?)