Memory Tourism – Visitor experiences at memorial sites in contemporary Germany.

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Abstract

Tourists to memorial sites are either witnesses to human suffering or viewed as shallow individuals who gaze upon another person's pain. Yet, how visitors to memorial sites respond and engage with memorial sites is barely known. This thesis builds on the theories of dark tourism and cultural memory by examining the visitor's experience at four German memorial sites.

By employing a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods, this research has produced a comprehensive set of data that provides empirical depth to the ongoing discussion of tourism to sites of death and suffering. The memorial sites of Ravensbrück and Flossenbürg, both former concentration camps, were the basis for examining the visitor's engagement at sites which are no longer in living memory. The House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin was the control site which made it possible to research the visitor at a memorial where there are no physical traces of mass murder. At the former Stasi prison memorial Bautzen II, the visitor research revealed the complexity of managing a memorial site in societies that are in transition.

The research has uncovered a complex interplay between identity, personal background and overarching memory narratives which come to the fore during a visit at a memorial site. Visits to Flossenbürg or Ravensbrück were often overshadowed by the Holocaust master narrative, yet at the same time some German visitors wrestled with the nation's responsibility for the Nazi past. At the House of the Wannsee Conference, visitors were either emotionally overwhelmed by the confrontation with the perpetrator, or disengaged due to the extensive and often repetitive exhibition content. Bautzen II evoked intense emotional reactions, yet also showed that visitors with their own traumatic memories can be react in a detached manner.

In summary, this research closed the gap in understanding the tourist at memorial sites. It highlights that theories in dark tourism research and memory studies do not do justice to the unique visitor responses at the German memorial sites which underpinned this research. In order to move away from the negative association of the term 'dark' in tourism research, this thesis concludes by introducing the concept of memory tourism. Furthermore, suggestions for improving the exhibition design and subsequently the ongoing engagement with the visitor act as reference point for practitioners and further academic research.
Date of Award29 Sep 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorDebbie M Pinfold (Supervisor) & Mark A Allinson (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • memory
  • tourism
  • Germany
  • memorial sites
  • Ravensbrück
  • Flossenbürg
  • Bautzen
  • Wannsee
  • museum
  • visitor research

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