Old Melbourne Gaol - leg irons and chain, iron neck collar and handcuffs (slightly cropped); creator: GSV; source: http://flic.kr/p/e4r38S; license: CC-BY

Digital Dark Tourism

We are conscious of emerging debates on “Dark Tourism” which have gained currency in the last fifteen years as a way of describing the heritage industry’s opening up of former sites of pain and punishment, such as Alcatraz or Port Arthur, for personal pleasure. Where a close involvement between academics and museum experts exists, as they do between convict site managers and academics in Tasmania for example, the benefits are clear to see (eg: Heritage Tasmania, Port Arthur).

In working with the heritage industry, historians play a public role which extends knowledge about their areas of interest to the general public, and also help to construct a socio-historical context which can be used to inform public understandings of crime and offending. Almost all gaol, police and court museums now have websites to advertise their attractions, and some heritage sites have very sophisticated ‘online doorways’. So to some extent we can journey to dark sites of pain and punishment whilst sitting at home in front of the laptop, and there are a few ‘places’ which are nearly or wholly cyber-sites of Dark Tourism. Ethical and moral issues may arise if our website also became a site of online Dark Tourism (a possibility we need to be aware of). We will investigate these issues in conjunction with our selected industry partners with an aim of developing best practice within a rapidly-expanding sector of the British and Australian heritage industry.