Former prison is fitting setting to explore death and disaster

23 October 2016

UCLan hosts dark tourism conference for global experts at former Lancaster prison

The ‘A Wing’ of a former Lancaster prison provided the ideal backdrop this week for dark tourism experts from around the world to examine society’s interest in sites of death and disaster.

Organised by the University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan) Institute for Dark Tourism Research, together with project partners from the Universities of Manchester Metropolitan, Bath, Durham, Hull, and York, the ‘Packaging up Death and the Dead for the Contemporary Visitor Economy’ conference invited speakers from the UK and USA to look at what makes people want to visit sites of death, disaster or the seemingly macabre; how appropriate this may be and if visiting some sites of so called dark or disaster tourism is insensitive and exploits those affected by them.

The event was aptly held at what is considered to be one of Lancashire’s most iconic site of dark tourism, the former ‘A Wing’ of HM Lancaster Prison at Lancaster Castle.

The Executive Director of the UCLan Institute for Dark Tourism Research, Dr Philip Stone, organised the booked-up conference. He said: “Over the past twenty years or so there has been an increasing academic and media focus on ‘dark tourism’, which has the capacity to expand boundaries of the imagination and to provide the modern visitor with potentially life-changing points of shock.

“Dark tourism and cultural heritage overlap when considering themes of war, disaster, tragedy or social conflict, and memory and identity are in question. Of course the interpretations of these themes are understandably prone to concerns about inclusion, exploitation, sensitivity and appropriateness. I would argue that developing touristic opportunities at particular difficult heritage sites is an increasing, and perhaps inevitable, feature of creating what is known as contemporary traumascapes; sites which bear the physical and psychological scars of suffering.”

"We encounter and commemorate death in many ways in contemporary society and the conference allowed us a critical insight of how ‘dark tourism’ can mediate life and living through the significant dead"

Another UCLan speaker, Associate Lecturer in Tourism Management Dr Daniel Wright, shared his provocative research which paints a sombre scenario for the future of tourism in 2200 in which hunting humans could become a form of tourism entertainment.

He said: “What the future of tourism will look like is open to debate. Hunting humans: A future for tourism in 2200, is a research paper that explores past and current societal trends. What I’ve presented is a provocative dystopian future scenario where entertainment, violence and human assassination are seen to be a normalised tourist activity.”

Other topics examined Lancaster’s own slave heritage and the ways that contemporary artists and academics ensure that history is not forgotten, the spectacle of punishment and prisons, and the appropriateness of children visiting sites of death and disaster.

Dr Stone added: “This conference was a huge success in the sense it brought local, national and international scholars, students, and industry people together from a broad array of subject areas. We encounter and commemorate death in many ways in contemporary society and the conference allowed us a critical insight of how ‘dark tourism’ can mediate life and living through the significant dead.”

‘Packaging up Death and the Dead’ for the Contemporary Visitor Economy: A Dark Tourism and Heritage Perspective, is part of the ‘Encountering Corpses’ project led by Professor Craig Young from Manchester Metropolitan University, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Seminar Series 2014 – 2017. Other speakers were Professor Mary Margaret Kerr from the University of Pittsburgh, Professor Alan Rice from UCLan, Dr Paul Fallon from Sheffield Hallam University and Dr Sarah Hodgkinson from University of Leicester.