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Dark tourism

This term has been around at least since 1996, when it appeared in a special issue of the International Journal of Heritage Studies; it gained wider public notice in 2000 through the publication of a book with the title Dark Tourism by Professors Malcolm Foley and John Lennon of Glasgow Caledonian University. Dark tourism is the visiting of sites of tragedy, such as Auschwitz and New York’s Ground Zero, or historical battlefield sites such as Bosworth and Gettysburg, or trips to the home turf of Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel. Malcolm Foley and John Lennon point out that the custodians of such sites have responsibilities both to their visitors and to the victims commemorated there to tell a truthful and rounded story. This is not always possible in an excursion that may have been designed as entertainment rather than remembrance and in which voyeurism and exploitation for commercial or propagandistic ends may distort the message.

When you visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, you are engaging in what specialists call “dark tourism” — travel to a site associated with atrocity or public tragedy.

Midstream, 1 May 2005

“Dark tourism” sites are important testaments to the consistent failure of humanity to temper our worst excesses and, managed well, they can help us to learn from the darkest elements of our past.

Observer, 23 Oct. 2005

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Last modified: 26 November 2005.