'Dark tourism' study centre launched by university

Barbed wire, concentration camp Researchers will examine why tourists visits sites of terrible events, such as Nazi concentration camps

"Dark tourism" - where visitors travel to sites of death, brutality and terror - is to be the subject of a dedicated centre for academic research at the University of Central Lancashire.

The Institute for Dark Tourism Research is said to be the world's first such academic centre.

Researchers say they want to examine why people "feel compelled to visit sites like Auschwitz or Ground Zero".

Director Philip Stone says such places make people face their "own mortality".

The institute, which is being launched on Tuesday, will look at the relationship between places with terrible associations - and tourists who use their leisure time to visit them.

Disaster trips

Dr Stone says that this includes places such as the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Nazi concentration camps and the sites of disasters such as the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine.

He says that going to such places becomes a form of "secular pilgrimage", with people feeling they need to visit them.

Dr Stone says his research suggests that visitors want to find some kind of meaning in these places of suffering.

Start Quote

Four hundred years ago they were innocent people who were killed. Now they're a tourist destination”

End Quote Dr Philip Stone Insitute for Dark Tourism Research

Visitors try to empathise with victims and imagine the motivations of the perpetrators, he says, and then visitors have a sense of relief that they can step back into the safety of their own lives.

"People feel anxious before - and then better when they leave, glad that it's not them," says the centre's executive director.

His research has looked at people who visit such sites as part of a wider holiday, rather than people who have specifically travelled to see them.

He describes a couple who reported that they only went to the Ground Zero site at the end of a visit to New York, because going any earlier would have upset them for the rest of the holiday.

But they still clearly felt compelled to visit, he says.

Any scene of disaster or violence is going to have an uneasy relationship with tourism - in terms of how sensitively such events are presented, and how visitors are expected to behave.

But he says the "packaging" of such sites can be what people experience, rather than a recognition of the awful real-life events which are being commemorated.

There is a "blurred line between memorialisation and tourism", he says.

'Long history'

He also believes that an important part of the attraction of such grim places is to allow people to consider death, from a comfortable distance.

In a culture that usually removes death from the public domain, such different places share a common link as scenes strongly associated with the loss of life, he says.

"It's a way for a secular society to reconnect with death."

Dr Stone, who worked in the tourism industry before becoming an academic, says that there is a long history of dark tourism.

"It's always been there. You could say that a medieval execution was an early form of dark tourism."

More than 100 delegates from around the world will attend an inaugural symposium at the university.

Among the future research plans are to look at people who made trips to see the damage caused by earthquakes in Italy, and to examine the visitor industry around the Pendle Witches in Lancashire.

"Four hundred years ago they were innocent people who were killed. Now they're a tourist destination," says Dr Stone.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    #244 Oradour was actually the opening scene of the series 'The World At War'. Its extremely well known among those with an interest in history. Part of the reason its not as well publicised as it may be is that its a 'messy' story. Many of the SS men who destroyed the village were technically French themselves (born in Alsace) & the subsequent war crimes trials caused much anger in Alsace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    More worthless research, not doubt at tax payers expense, from a third rate former polytechnic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    I visited Oradour-sur-Glane a few years ago, on the recommendation of the owners of the cottage we were staying in. My wife and I had never heard of it and decided to go as a sort of pilgrimage. I think the story is little known outside of France. We found it a very humbling experience.
    It is important that these places are preserved so that the truth of such events can never be denied

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    I've never done "dark tourism" myself but have to confess that I felt extremely uneasy at passing the Eagles' Nest when visiting the Berchtesgaden area for a hiking holiday last summer. I just wanted to get past the place as soon as possible.

    On the other hand I think that Auschwitz has a role to play in reminding people of the horrors of the Holocaust.

  • Comment number 242.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    I think its more worrying that the university is claiming people are dark tourists and turning up because of death. Most people turn up to witness history and an historical event happened ,not for a fascination with death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    I have been to Thiepval and the Menin Gate. British Commonwealth history doesn't get much darker than what these places represent. I can't help but wonder though how many British people even know where they are, or why? .

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    The places where such atrocities are committed should be remembered out of respect for the victims. My husband wanted to visit Bergen Belsen one year. We did that at the start of the holidaay so that it wasn't 'hanging over us'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    @ 232 Christopher Clarke-Williams. No. You are wrong. The World Trade Center was attacked on 11th September 2001, in New York, which is in the United States of America. In America dates are abbreviated as month/day/year. Not day/month/year as the British chose to do it. Therefore 9/11 is correct. It wouldn't be in the UK but 9/11 is primarily a significant American date, not a British one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    Visiting the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields in Cambodia in the company of a survivor of Pol Pot's regime, hearing his harrowing story of what went on there and what life was really like I began to agree with his arguement that people should visit these places to understand first hand what the darker side of humanity is capable of and hopefully make sure it never happens again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    I walked up the hill to the Polish cemetery at Monte Cassino - It took me nearly 4 hours.
    My father fought there with the Polish army and survived.
    I thought of my visit as paying homage to all those who fought there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    I have been to Auschwitz, Birkenau, Ground Zero, the Oklahoma City bombing memorial, several WWII-related sites and other places that could be considered areas of "dark tourism". The only explanation I can give is to pay my respects as well as learn from the past. It might be deemed morbid but it's my 'hobby' as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    I recall when Princess Diana died, so many people suddenly 'cared' about her. People who had never had a good word to say about her were talking about travelling to London for the funeral or taking a day off to watch it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    They visit these places for the same place that they would go to watch a public execution or flogging- like when you were in school and a fight drew a big crowd.

    People just like to see others suffering. They'll rationalise it as "wanting to learn from the past" of "showing empathy", but that's just nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    Perhaps this is nit picking in such a serious discussion but I think you will find that the New York attacks were on 11/9 NOT 9/11.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    BBC are gagging again what happened to freedom of speech.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Who the heck is funding this? Not taxpayers, I hope.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Just visited a site in London where priests used to castrate themselves and throw their -ahem- through someone's window - all part of worshiping a cult deity (I'm talking Roman times btw). Schadenfreude? Rubbernecking? Maybe, but very powerful to stand on the spot where it happened. (I read it in an app called Black Plaques)

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Its curiousity, but people are different as to what is ok or not.

    I wouldnt wish to visit Auschwitz. I got it watching ‘The World at War’ in the 1970’s as a child. Chilling/sickening.

    I wouldnt visit ground zero. The memories of the live coverage of people jumping, then the collapse told me all I wanted to know.

    The fields of Flanders I would see. Perhaps because it seems more remote?

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    What is dark about visiting somewhere like Auschwitz, Ground Zero or any war cemetery? They mark sacrifice and suffering in the face of an 'evil' that was overcome, and remind us of our humanity. Dark is the 'rubber neck' mentality that goes with being entertained by the Titanic disaster and the like. Including making or watching television programs that seek to exploit accidental deaths.


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