Memoryscapes (digital, locational, imagined) NUBS 3.07
Jul 04, 2023 15:45 - 17:15(Europe/London)
20230704T1545 20230704T1715 Europe/London 2.15. Penal Heritage in Transnational Perspective

In recent years, dark tourism has expanded to encompass incarceration and imprisonment. A number of former prisons have been re-opened as heritage centres, museums, or hotels: Kilmainham Prison in Dublin and Crumlin Road in Belfast; Beaumaris and Ruthin Gaols in Wales; and, in England, to give just a few examples, Bodmin, Gloucester, Shrewsbury, Oxford, York Castle and Lincoln Castle. There are equivalent prison museum sites from various periods in France, most notably the Château d'If offshore from Marseilles, and the Conciergerie in Paris, as well as more recent lieux de mémoire such as the Mémorial de la Prison de Montluc, Lyon; and across Europe, Asia, and North America there has been a parallel explosion of prison tourism. Mostly these sites are polished commercial operations that 'form a growing part of a burgeoning heritage industry' (Mistzal 2003: 157). Indeed, public and commercial demand for more and more sites has been a motor in the preservation of heritage sites (albeit skewed towards 'dark' locations). The many terms used by historians and sociologists for this process are as heterogenous as the motivations which underlay this kind of public history, with this lexical proliferation raising questions about the (un)translatability of notions relating to 'dark tourism' and 'difficult heritage' (Lennon and Foley 2010; Logan and Reeves 2009; Stone 2010; Becker 2012; Forsdick 2015).These carceral heritage locations form part of a network of sites, where repression, incarceration, notorious killings or mass deaths have taken place, that have become places of remembrance, education and entertainment in a complex process of mise-en-abîme. They house and display objects, films and other traces of the past. Travel to these locations has become a contemporary p ...

NUBS 3.07 MSA Conference Newcastle 2023 conference@memorystudiesassociation.org
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In recent years, dark tourism has expanded to encompass incarceration and imprisonment. A number of former prisons have been re-opened as heritage centres, museums, or hotels: Kilmainham Prison in Dublin and Crumlin Road in Belfast; Beaumaris and Ruthin Gaols in Wales; and, in England, to give just a few examples, Bodmin, Gloucester, Shrewsbury, Oxford, York Castle and Lincoln Castle. There are equivalent prison museum sites from various periods in France, most notably the Château d'If offshore from Marseilles, and the Conciergerie in Paris, as well as more recent lieux de mémoire such as the Mémorial de la Prison de Montluc, Lyon; and across Europe, Asia, and North America there has been a parallel explosion of prison tourism. Mostly these sites are polished commercial operations that 'form a growing part of a burgeoning heritage industry' (Mistzal 2003: 157). Indeed, public and commercial demand for more and more sites has been a motor in the preservation of heritage sites (albeit skewed towards 'dark' locations). The many terms used by historians and sociologists for this process are as heterogenous as the motivations which underlay this kind of public history, with this lexical proliferation raising questions about the (un)translatability of notions relating to 'dark tourism' and 'difficult heritage' (Lennon and Foley 2010; Logan and Reeves 2009; Stone 2010; Becker 2012; Forsdick 2015).

These carceral heritage locations form part of a network of sites, where repression, incarceration, notorious killings or mass deaths have taken place, that have become places of remembrance, education and entertainment in a complex process of mise-en-abîme. They house and display objects, films and other traces of the past. Travel to these locations has become a contemporary phenomenon, attracting large numbers of tourists. Multiple stakeholders are involved in consuming their histories, and multiple (often international and multilingual) audiences are engaged in interpreting the meaning of the site, and the displays housed therein. To date, however, little transnational comparative work has been conducted on such locations, despite a growing understanding of the role of penal heritage for questions of national heritage and identity, as well as international understandings of transitional justice and human rights. This panel brings together four different perspectives on penal heritage, all reflecting on the need for a more comprehensive comparative and transnational approach. Together, the papers investigate sites of penal heritage as contested arenas of national and international identities, drawing on a range of examples from across the globe and reflecting, ultimately, on whether it is possible – and indeed desirable – to learn from key sites to develop a set of transnational standards in the area of penal heritage.

All participants work at the University of Liverpool and the panel reports on a project currently under development in the area of penal heritage.



Robert Blackwood

Multilingualism & multimodality in prison museums

The transformation of prisons, concentration camps and gulags into heritage destinations is fraught with difficult decisions around memory and public commemoration. As part of the work to open up these formerly closed sites to visitors, the question of signage is particularly important, but the extent to which multilingualism and multimodality are scrutinised does not always receive the attention it should. Museum and memory studies have attended to the texts and labels emplaced in a range of sites, but examinations of the linguistic landscapes of penal sites, which privilege language choice, visual arrangements, and geosemiotics (where the very location of information activates meaning) bring a new perspective to our understanding of the collective memory-making processes in penal heritage. Drawing on two sites, Patarei Prison in Tallinn, Estonia in the Global North, and Tarrafal Concentration Camp on the island of Santiago, Cape Verde in the Global South, this paper compares approaches to multilingualism in the organisation of place, going beyond the standard discussion of languages of wider communication to reach the widest audience. Equally, the paper investigates other meaning-making resources deployed in the two museums, ranging from artefacts displayed to the use of sound, colour and touch to convert now-deserted prisons into embodied experiences for the visitor. Recognising the importance of the physicality of the sites themselves, I shall also consider the contribution made by architectural features and the wider experience of a visitor to Patarei and Tarrafal, where named and bound languages, images, icons and objects from the sites' past are drawn together to evoke one (or more) preferred readings of the prisons. This paper will conclude by discussing the consequences of peripheralizing multilingualism in conjunction with multimodality in organising the sites for public engagement.


Anna Saunders

Memorial tropes at penal heritage sites

Sites of conscience, including penal heritage sites, commonly draw on established memorial tropes in order to remember victims, mark sites of mass death, highlight national or transnational narratives and create memorial arenas at which public ceremonies can be choreographed. While remembrance at individual locations is necessarily site-specific, particular memorial tropes – such as walls of names, mock-ups or replicas of watch towers, figurative statues or abstract stele – inevitably carry with them echoes from other locations and contexts. This paper will draw on the memorialisation of the Gulag in Kazakhstan at ALZHIR (Akmolinsk Camp of Wives and Traitors to the Motherland) and Karlag (Karaganda Corrective Labor Camp), where the broader memorial apparatus links synchronically to memorial tropes that are prevalent across a range of international sites of memory. As a result, visitors are encouraged to draw connections with the memorialisation of other periods of difficult history, most prominently the Holocaust and other genocides, but also the commemoration of victims of war, the transatlantic traffic in enslaved Africans, apartheid and terrorism. Reinforcing Michael Rothberg's (2009) notion of multidirectional memory, memory of the Gulag at these sites thus becomes one of many global histories that is represented in a complex, symbolic language of memorialisation. Drawing on these examples, the paper will ask more broadly whether increased use of specific memorial tropes at penal heritage sites – as well as their greater visibility via virtual means – is resulting in the emergence of a transnational grammar of memorialisation and whether such a development is desirable.


Charles Forsdick

Internationalizing practices and standards in penal heritage

Penal heritage sites form part of a wider international network of sites of conscience. These are the focus of various forms of activity, which range from official or unofficial memorialization to a less regulated dark tourism. Whereas locations linked with genocide and Atlantic slavery are associated with the careful control and even prescription of visitor practices, fewer expectations tend to be associated with historic sites of incarceration. The controversies around the so-called 'Auschwitz selfie', relating to the appropriate use of social media at sites of mass suffering, are rarely if ever replicated at prison museums or memorials to the incarcerated, where sensationalism is often not only tolerated but often also encouraged. In some contexts, this is associated with a fixation with celebrity prisoners (Papillon in French Guiana, Al Capone at Alcatraz or the Eastern State Penitentiary); in others, with the deployment of the simulated trappings and traces of torture. In terms of a spectrum of dark tourist practices, ranging from the regulated to the deregulated, the sombre to the sensational, many sites of penal heritage are to be situated at an extreme characterized by a lack of adherence to any internationally accepted norms. The paper reflects on whether, without homogenization, it is possible to learn from key sites to develop a set of transnational standards in the area of penal heritage. This has been the case in other fields of commemoration, where, for instance, Auschwitz-Birkenau has heavily influenced the management of sites relating to the Shoah (and indeed to genocide more broadly, as memorial sites relating to the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda make clear), or the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool and the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana have impacted on the conception of those relating to Atlantic slavery. The paper addresses in particular: (i) ethically informed approaches to heritage; (ii) an understanding of the economics of penal heritage; (iii) approaches to inclusive museology; and (iv) the development of international networks across the archipelago of carceral lieux de mémoire. 

Professor of French Sociolinguistics
,
University of Liverpool
Professor of Modern Languages and Cultures
,
University of Liverpool
James Barrow Professor of French
,
University of Liverpool
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow
,
University of Liverpool
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