Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Dark Tourism: A Guide to Resources

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Dark Tourism: A Guide to Resources

Article excerpt

When I began receiving topic ideas for the Alert Collector column in 2016, Rebecca Price's submission for a column on "dark tourism" caught my attention, mostly because of its novelty. I had a sense of what the topic entailed, and it turns out to be even more fascinating than I suspected. Why do some people like to visit the sites of tragedies? What is the attraction of ghost tours? Why are memorials popular destinations for tourists? This relatively new field of dark tourism crosses into many different disciplines, as you will see in the column that follows. While not all librarians may be rushing to create collections around this topic, the items may fill other collection needs in sociology, anthropology, and other areas. Price is an adjunct research and instruction librarian at Duquesne University and a doctoral candidate in social and comparative analysis at the University of Pittsburgh. As a member of a University of Pittsburgh research team studying children's experiences at dark sites, Price has published several peer-reviewed articles about dark tourism.--Editor

Why do tourists share selfies from places of tragedy? How do cemetery and prison tours reflect chosen narratives? These are just two of the many questions addressed by the study of "dark tourism." While readers might not recognize the phrase, it describes a common activity. Each year, millions of people travel to gaze at battlefields, cemeteries, memorials, monuments, places where famous people died, or places where others were enslaved. (1) Dark tourism destinations cover a broad spectrum, ranging from entertaining ghost tours to concentration camps and sites of terror attacks. (2) While visitors are motivated by a variety of reasons, dark tourism destinations represent "death, suffering, or the seemingly macabre." (3)

In the 1990s, Foley and Lennon were among the first to name dark tourism as an area of research. (4) Yet dark tourism as an activity has gone on for centuries. For example, think of pilgrims traveling to view relics associated with martyrs, or crowds attending public executions. Sometimes called "thanatourists" or "heritage tourists," these tourists visit places of death, atrocity, disaster, terrorism, and other forms of human suffering--and some argue that dark tourism is growing in popularity. (5)

Social media has added a new twist to tragedy as tourist attraction. Now, tourists post selfies at sites of tragedy and human suffering, like the recent example of the disastrous fire at London's Greenfell Tower. (6) Social media posts like these lead to public responses, including outrage. These public reactions generate additional headlines and heated online debates. (7)

All of this attention has caused dark tourism, once strictly the domain of academics in tourism and heritage studies, to receive attention from researchers and students across disciplines. In the last decade, published dark tourism studies have focused primarily on defining the concept and its scope, exploring the political nature of tourist experiences, analyzing tourist motivations and experiences, and exploring the influences of different stakeholders from a management perspective. (8) It is also worth noting dark tourism's obvious connection to museum libraries and historical archives. Other libraries have found themselves dealing with dark tourism in a practical sense. One example is the Dallas Public Library's evolution into a memorial destination and archive of the artifacts that people leave behind, known as "tributes." (9)

Recently, researchers and students from across disciplines have begun exploring dark tourism from a variety of perspectives. These researchers represent disciplines as varied as anthropology, architecture, criminology, cultural studies, education, ethics, geography, performance studies, policy studies, psychology, and sociology, to name a few. For example, students and faculty members research how memorials are designed and why. …

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