‘Dark Tourism’ and the Digital Panopticon, LABEX Workshop, Liverpool

Port Arthur, Tasmania

On 21 March 2017, Barry Godfrey gave a paper on the Digital Panopticon and ‘Dark Tourism’ at a LABEX Past in the Present workshop convened at the Kuumba Imani Millennium Centre, Liverpool.  Barry’s paper addressed the ethical implications of the Digital Panopticon project. This was in terms of our responsibilities as researchers to minimise exploitation of the Digital Panopticon resource by providing appropriate representation and historical contextualisation for the lives of convicts that we are studying and making available online.

Model Prison, Port Arthur, Tasmania.

Barry’s paper was part of a wider ‘Dark Tourism’ workshop convened by the AHRC LABEX network which has sought to comparatively explore memorial sites of the Holocaust in France, genocide memorial sites in Rwanda and former sites of penal colonies in French Guiana and New South Wales, Australia. LABEX has also sought to interrogate the term, ‘Dark Tourism’, in particular in relation to the differences in the use of the term in Anglophone and Francophone critical literatures.  For while the phrase ‘Dark Tourism’ has gained particular currency over the last fifteen years in Anglophone analyses of the heritage industry’s opening up, for public benefit as well as commercial purposes of former sites of suffering, pain and punishment, there is less evidence of the use of this term in French studies of the heritage industry.  However, French phrases such as ‘tourisme macabre’, ‘tourisme des catastrophe’, ‘tourism earnings noir’ and ‘tourisme somber’ are sometimes used in similar analyses of how the heritage industry represents historical pasts which narrate stories of suffering and imprisonment.

Alongside Barry’s paper, the first day of the two day workshop featured papers on the representation of slavery in the graphic novel (Julian Vernet, Paris-Nanterre), the depiction of the lives of convicts at Alcatraz and French Guiana (Charles Forsdick, University of Liverpool) and UNREST (Unsettling Remembering and Social Cohesion in Transnational Europe), a new EU Horizon 2020 project on heritage, the memory of conflict and collective identities in contemporary Europe.  The second day included a tour of Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum as well as a paper on memorialisation in Rwanda by Annette Becker (Paris-Nanterre) and Catherine Gilbert (King’s College, London).   Given my previous work on the commemoration of negative pasts such as the Holocaust and the First World War through national and international networks of remembrance, it was great to meet Annette who is co-director of the Historial de la Grande Guerre, Peronne and has also been a Fellow of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

As Public Engagement and Impact Officer, I found the LABEX workshop useful from the practitioner’s perspective of reflecting on how we represent the lives of convicts in publicity, educational and exhibition resources associated with the Digital Panopticon. It also raised questions about how we responsibly deal with the legacies of British imperialism and colonialism which are integral to the themes explored by the Digital Panopticon project.

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