Anne Hertzog, Assistant Professor in Geography University of Cergy-Pontoise, France
Cover picture: Visitors asking for information at a tourism desk outside 9/11 Memorial in New York, 2013 | A. Hertzog
The “Martyred cities” of Vukovar or Sarajevo, the Ground Zero in New York, the Gallipoli battlefield in Turkey are just a few examples of places of memory that are among the most popular destinations for tourism. Nowadays, the Somme Battlefields in France, have become cosmopolite places where visitors from Canada, Australia or Germany may meet travelers from India, South-Africa or New Zealand. Multilingual signs installed by the local administration of tourism allow them to interpret a landscape dotted with cemeteries, memorials, and monuments of the Great War. Their tour may be organized by a guide of British origins, whose wife runs a typical English bed-and-breakfast in one of those typical rebuilt villages of Picardy! These few examples show how tourism and places of memory interact in many ways, regarding cross-cutting issues, such as politics, economics or social and cultural practices. This contribution aims to draw a picture of the contemporary reflections and debates this globalized phenomenon generates, exploring different meanings of “memory”.
The notion of places of memory was popularized by the French historian Pierre Nora in the 1980s. According to Nora (1984), places of memory were defined as remains: «The extreme form in which a commemorative consciousness remains in a history that calls it because it ignores it». Places of memory refer to material or immaterial objects, such as memorials, archives, associations, songs, etc. They also reflect a “work of memory”, e.g. an active practice of remembering of a various range of stakeholders.
In this text, a place of memory relates to conflicts, trauma, violence, repression, confinement, and pain. This is a widely adopted approach, even if it doesn’t cover the larger meaning of the notion. The strong connections between places of memory and tourism have been extensively and systematically studied, discussed and researched since the 1990s. As “remembrance tourism” or “post-conflict tourism” emerged as research fields, the studies focusing on tourism associated with places of death have undergone a great development, discussing new categories such as “tragic tourism” (Lippard, 2000), “thanatourism” (Seaton, 1996) or “dark tourism” (Lennon and Foley, 2000).
Researchers have provided many interpretations of tourism associated with places of memory: some resituate it in a long history of fascination with ruins as traces of destruction or lost civilizations dating back to antiquity; others have seen it as a specific manifestation of the complex relationships between societies and death. By using the notion of “dark tourism”, Lennon and Foley want to stress «a fundamental shift in the way in which death, disaster, and other grotesque atrocities are being handled by those who offer associated tourist products» (Lennon and Foley, 2000, 3). Some researchers suggest it is a manifestation of the crisis experienced by societies, pushing communities or individuals to question their painful pasts. Others analyze it more as a new form of «commodification of emotions that is functional for the reproduction of both modern societies and of the market» (Bartoletti, 2010).
This contribution aims to explore 4 aspects of the interactions between tourism and places of memory, which will be discussed on the basis of the literature:
1/ Tourism and painful memories
Tourism associated with painful memories has been a largely globalized phenomenon, which nevertheless reflects contrasted memory dynamics.
2/ Tourism, places of memory and politics
The tourist attractiveness of places of memory is part of complex processes where “memory work” (travail de mémoire) and tourism development interact, in response to numerous challenges, revealing the political dimension of tourism;
3/ Places of memory and tourists’ contributions
Tourists inscribe their practices in the geography of places of memory officially produced and marketed. This is a process that questions tourists’ motivations and experiences. Tourists also actively contribute to the production of constantly recomposed spaces of memory, through practices that can lead to a redefinition of the notion of a place of memory.
4/ The social function of “remembrance tourism” in question
The rise of tourism and its massification in some places has given rise to many debates and discussions in the academic world and beyond, about the social functions of “remembrance tourism” and its efficiency in transmitting memory.
1/ Tourism and painful memories: Tourism associated with painful memories has been a largely globalized phenomenon, which nevertheless reflects contrasted memory dynamics.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Africa, Cambodia, Vietnam, Ireland, Armenia, Guatemala: for several decades, remembrance tourism has been globalized. The most visited sites have long been European or American sites (some historians locate the origins of “battlefield” tourism in Gettysburg during the Civil War) but today the phenomenon is global. Adopting a functionalist logic, some researchers explain it by the widespread presence of violence in the world: «few geographical areas escape memories marked by violence variously linked to dictatorships, mass crimes, totalitarianisms or genocides» (Chevalier, Lefort, 2016). However, this approach conceals the very contrasting dynamics that characterize the geography of remembrance tourism according to the contexts, the complexities of perceptions and practices that can be associated with it, the possible dynamics of transformation, forgetting and rememoration. The global scale of the phenomenon may refer to the analysis of the historian Henry Rousso: «All over the world, despite different political or cultural contexts, despite the extreme diversity of historical legacies, the way societies deal with the past has not only undergone significant structural changes in the last third decades of the 20th century, but it has tended to unify, to “globalize”, to encourage forms of collective representations and public action that, at least in appearance, are increasingly similar» (Rousso, 2007). Other researchers emphasize “dynamics of memory”, in the constant making, dependant on movement and circulation, suggesting to rethink social memory as a manifestation and result of globalization and global media culture. Astrid Erll thus suggests to redefine memory as “travelling” or “transcultural”, shifting «from stable and allegedly “pure” national-cultural memory towards the movements, connections, and mixing of memories» (Erll, 2014). In addition, some researchers insist on the emergence of a “global memory culture” leading to common memory regimes beyond national specificities (Zwingenberg, 2015).
The global diffusion of tourism associated with places of memory can be read as one dimension of this “global memory space”. It is based on various factors, involving global geopolitical dynamics, global mobilities (information, migrant flows, etc.), economic globalization and the role of a global culture (cinema), and, of course, the global diffusion of tourism linked to the growing importance of this sector in many economies, the democratization of travelling and the modernization of transport. Major international organizations such as UNESCO and networks structuring certain diasporas are also involved in the globalization of certain memories such as the memory of the Shoah or slavery. Finally, the global scope of certain events linked to risks and threats now considered to be global (nuclear, terrorism) contributes to the rise of a “global” memory culture.
Admittedly, the numerous studies on national and local contexts reflect different modalities of tourism development and the uneven attractiveness of places of memory in the world. While some have gained global recognition and are visited by millions of tourists from all over the world, others do not (or not yet) achieve national or international recognition, but may be of great importance to a limited number of people. For example, the gulags or places of Stalinist massacres have long remained mostly invisible in the tourism geography of Eastern Europe (Bechtel, Jurgenson, 2013): it took many years and major geopolitical changes, such as the transformation of the Soviet political system and the opening of the Iron Curtain allowing new tourist mobilities, for some of them, become tourist destinations. Some places of memory are very attractive for small communities: located outside the spaces of official or visible tourist enhancement, but invested with strong and identity-based meanings; without monuments or museums, but invested by discreet and often ephemeral memorial practices (flower deposits…), «turning them into attractions of sorts completely outside the vision of official tourism authorities» (Marschall, 2015), such as the villages of Silesia visited by german tourists or the ruins of Palestinian villages Israel, visited by Palestinians in exile.
The globalization of tourism associated with places of memory thus leads to new polarities, in constant evolutions. The research could investigate more of these global processes of recognition and dynamics of memory, which lead to an emergence of “mass destinations”, as well as a growing fragmentation of geography of remembrance tourism. Some places of memory have become global destinations because of the unprecedented violence of which they were the theaters for humanity, but also according to the international recognition they benefit – which leads us to the second aspect of this contribution.
2/ Tourism, places of memory and politics: The tourist attractiveness of places of memory is part of complex processes where memory work and tourism development interact, in response to numerous challenges, revealing the political dimension of tourism.
A place can be characterized as a “destination” if actors invest in it with meaning, deploy mobility, and articulate it with tourism development practices. These can be very diverse and require a series of voluntary and intentional actions on the part of a whole series of actors to develop the visibility and the attractiveness of the place. By focusing on policies to enhance tourism in places of memory, some studies explore the explicitly political dimension of tourism, showing how tourism discourses can contribute to the construction of a national “great narrative”, help to impose an official version of the past or give a positive image of authoritarian political regimes. An example for this, among many others, comes from Alicia Fuentes Vega’s work on the role tourism played in the rehabilitation of the Franco regime after the Second World War, and more specifically through the conversion of a fascist landmark, the monument known as Valley of the Fallen, into a tourist site through a heritagisation process (Fuentes Vega, 2017).
Tourism can thus be considered as one of the contemporary modalities (resulting from the spread of global capitalism) for producing public discourse on the past at many levels of scale. From the scale of states to that of cities, regions or departments, memory tourism policies are a way of producing official or dominant narratives in the public space and promote identities.
Patrick Naef has shown the role of tourism in the invention of some cities as “martyred cities” in the Balkans (Naef, 2016). The selective process of valorization of places (what is worth seeing) also makes it possible to promote a territorial ideology that allows inscribing the legitimacy of some dominant groups or powers. Maps, itineraries, tourist guides and, in recent decades, digital tools can be the vectors in the process of invisibility of certain social groups. In some cases, tourism accentuates the phenomenon of marginalization of minorities, as illustrated by the case of Israel, where the Arab-Muslim memories are often excluded in the tourism mediation of some places of memory; moreover, Arab visitors are no longer welcome on certain places of memory previously shared, as shown some works on Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem (Selwyn, 2011, Bowman, 2013).
The French case of the construction of a policy of remembrance tourism is indicative of the plurality of issues at stake. Preferred to “war tourism” or “battlefield tourism”, the use of the notion of “remembrance tourism” (tourisme de mémoire) suggests an acceptable, sustainable and positive vision of tourism, although associated with places that symbolize violence, destruction, and death. The challenges are economic development and the attractiveness of the territory. The promotion of France, a first touristic destination in the world, on the international scene as a “destination of remembrance” allows the State to promote civic values and to foster active diplomacy while encouraging tourism as a tool of economical development. As shown by the french case, tourism and culture professionals, communication experts, marketing agencies scenographers, architects –not to forget the tourism industry – are from now on fully involved in the processes of remembrance tourism development. The promotion, marketing and tourism planification processes lead to new kinds of partnerships between these stakeholders and more traditional memory “entrepreneurs”, such as historians, associations, veterans or political actors. New kinds of power struggles and conflicts of legitimacies thus characterizes these complex partnerships, as these stakeholders show divergent interests – not only because they do not all necessarily share the same version of history (conflicting appropriation of the past) but also because they do not develop the same relation and attachment to places, and objectives in their development (conflicting appropriation of the space).
The paradigms of peace, reconciliation, and resilience have become part of a global frame in contemporary mediation and tourism narratives. Wars and conflicts that have been largely reinterpreted through the narratives of “shared memories”, which emerged at the beginning of the 2000s under the influence of UNESCO. Meaning that war leads to shared disasters and responsibilities for all nations and people involved, the “shared memories” paradigms introduce a new vision of war memory, in rupture with the patriotic, aggressive and militarized approach. It is often considered as a “denationalized” approach of war memory suitable for present diplomatic goals achievements and development of international tourism. Yet, this is not always the case. In some conflict areas, such as South Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah, tourism development is widely war-oriented, as shown by some tourist attractions, where visitors can train to virtually shoot down the enemy. In some post-conflict situations, however, objectives of reconciliation can shape the development of remembrance tourism policies, as in Nothern Ireland, Rwanda (Dumas, Korman, 2011) or in the Balkans. For example, Causevic and Lynch have shown that some tourist guides in Mostar or Sarajevo wish to transmit messages of peace.
Studies raise the question of “counter-memories” and resistance to dominant discourses through remembrance tourism. In many countries, activists develop alternative forms of tourism, where mediation activities or itinaries connect places of memory of minorities or invisibilized communities in the public space. Again the case of Israel illustrates it when Israeli NGOs propose alternative “political tours” including destroyed Palestinian villages (mostly followed by foreign travelers). In France, the promotion of a State remembrance tourism policy (“tourisme de mémoire”) has been criticized by those who have seen it as the expression of a national, dominant and official conception, concealing the “plurality of memories” of conflicts (in particular those of the “dominated” or the “voiceless” such as colonial soldiers, women, etc). Thus during the 2000s, in a political – and academic – context marked by the challenges of “postcolonialism” and the new imperatives of minority recognition, the notion of “tourisme des mémoires” had been promoted by some activists, in a clearly decolonial perspective.
Expression of an official- or a counter- memory, tourism development appears to be one of the modalities of exposing public narratives about the past, yet in response to present or future challenges. How tourism relates to places of memory shows the political dimension of tourism. How power struggles for space interact with conflicting memory in tourism development could be an interesting perpective for further research. The “destination” making/invention gathers different categories of stakeholders, at different levels of scales, who don’t necessarily share the same conception of space and time – starting with the visitors themselves, which brings us to the third aspect of this contribution.
3/ Places of memory and tourists’ contributions: There has been a growing body of work on tourism practices, visits and experiences. Many of them seek to understand the role of the place visit in the re-memory process.
Researchers question the notion of collective memory (Halbwachs, 1950) by examining the collective and individual practices that take place in places built and arranged to honor the dead and recall painful events. Practices of mourning, commemoration, and homage to the dead often lead to long journeys for survivors, veterans, and relatives of soldiers or victims of deportations or massacres. Distance and remoteness have been inherent in the birth of remembrance tourism, as shown by many historians. After the First War, because most of the dead were buried on the battlefields and not repatriated to their homeland, mourning and homage to the dead was part of relatively long travel practices for veterans and relatives. In Verdun or on American necropolis sites, “pilgrim hostels” were built in order to welcome visitors from far away. While many monuments and memorials were built in the countries of the belligerents nations, the international dimension of conflicts during the 20th century (WWI and WWII, colonial wars, Cold War…), explains the expansion of these long journeys to the battlefields and memorials often located abroad. The dispersion of Jewish communities throughout the world following the Shoah has led to international journey practices to the concentration camps located in Europe.
These journeys’ practices have different temporalities. WWI remembrance tourism on the battlefields declined after the Second World War, before undergoing a strong renewal from the 1990s onwards, particularly accentuated with the centenary of the War. These journeys have been of various importance according to the countries and the significance given to war sites in collective memory and the great diversity in mourning, remembrance but also tourism practices around the world, which are socially and culturally rooted. There can also be significant contrasts within countries, as shown by the Australian or Canadian cases: these journeys only became more democratic from the 1960s onwards, with the lowering of travel costs. Remembrance tourism can often be part of highly organized arrangements, with a number of national public or private organisations providing travel and accommodation for veterans, survivors and, more recently, schoolchildren. The long-standing well-structured organizations of journeys to Auschwitz from all over the world are a well-known example. The British policy of financing school trips for British pupils to the Western Front battlefields has been reinforced in the context of the centennial of the war, testifying the political and civic finalities of the journeys. This kind of organization also participates in the concentrations of the flows on the most significant memory places, which are generally the most visited, and where interactions between various categories of visitors are the most intense.
As a matter of fact, as time passes (disappearance of direct witnesses) and borders open under the effect of the development of international tourism, the types of visitors tend to change. These changes raise the question of adapting memory sites to the increasing arrival of generations of visitors who have not experienced commemorated events. These visitors have very different relationships to the past and its traces. They do not necessarily share the same references, expectations or codes of conduct.
The common cleavage between the “pilgrim” and the “tourist” has been shaped during the interwar period in Western Europe, qualifying 2 types of visitors on the battlefield; the first, whose presence was legitimate, was characterized by practices of mourning linked to loss and homage to the dead; the second, whose presence was often considered illegitimate, referred to a set of inappropriate behaviors. These collective representations of the two “imagined” categories of visitors are anchored in some class conflicts of the afterwar, but yet, continue to frame ways visitors are sometimes categorized. In her work on German tourists visiting the villages in Silesia where their ancestors used to live before being forced to leave, Sabine Marschall emphasizes «many of the travelers do not consider themselves “tourists” and may even be offended when being referred to as such, as they perceive their journey as something more closely resembling a pilgrimage […] also local residents may well regard them as “typical tourists”, based on their behavior, needs and the impact of their journeys». (Marschall, 2015).
For many researchers, the search for authenticity (authentic places, landscapes, traces) plays a key role in the visit of memory places. Many studies question the diversity of motivations to visit places of painful memory, suggesting a broad spectrum ranging from interest in history to the choice of “alternative” tourism and the search for thrills. In his work on South Africa, Fabrice Folio suggests 6 types of motivations for visitors visiting places of memory related to Apartheid such as Robben Island Prison (Folio, 2016): «an attraction for knowledge and understanding of history. A mission of awareness in order to raise awareness to avoid the unspeakable and potentially reverse the course of events. A quest for identity, a return to the roots. The motivation of pilgrimage, a feeling of repentance or pride. A desire to discover an exclusive or incongruous offer. A less admirable attraction for violence or suffering».
Many studies seek to capture, through the detailed observation of tourist practices and discourses, the meanings visitors give to the sites and their visit. Winter’s analysis of visitors books at Tyne Cot WWI cemetery in Belgium, for example, shows how visitors develop practices which are strongly ritualized during their visit; their written words in the visitor books express sadness, gratitude and promises never to forget the dead and very little critique about the war, which shows, she argues, a “high level of formality”; while she detects some national preference for ritualized sentences, she concludes to the indication of a “globally shared memory” (Winter, 2015). Her analysis, among others, show how tourists’ behaviors are socially shaped by codes of conduct and norms on these particular spaces, and suppose all kinds of ritualized and inherited practices (flowers, object repositories, photographs…).
Lately, many studies have been looking at the bodily dimension of the touristic experience (bodily memories, multisensory dimensions) studying the “performed” ritualized gestures, such as walks, prostrations, silence, while others focus more on the emotional complexities involved in these touristic experiences (Chevalier, Lefort, 2016, Truc, 2015). They suggest that places of memory are «tourist destinations are seen as nodes of reiterated performative acts». They are interested in traces and narratives produced by visitors touring places of violence and suffering, in order to understand the role of these visits in their personal transformations, and the construction of their familial, personal or even national identity and sense of belonging. «The journey and its practices of remembering play an important role in affirming and shaping the emptiness sense of identity. Study what effects journeys may have on emptiness lives, how memories are shared with other participants or family; how journey may foster introspection and induce a self-change, a transformed sense of identity through the experience of authenticity which allows the narratives of identity to be told» (Marschall, 2015).
There is an abundant literature on the travels of survivors or witnesses to places of destruction or traumatic events: Deported Jews visiting their former villages or camps in Central and Eastern Europe, witnesses or descendants of victims of terrorist attacks (Sturken, 2007), survivors of tropical storm Katrina return to see the remnant of their home (Thomas, 2009), veterans visiting battlefields, Palestinians in exile visiting ruins of their destroyed villages, Germans visiting former homelands in Central and Eastern Europe (Marschall, 2015, Bechtel, Jurgenson, 2013). The growing interest in the travel of displaced and uprooted populations to a land of origin (or considered as such in individual or collective memories), in a context of widespread mobility and circulation, is manifested by the development of categories such as “memory tourism”, “homesick tourism” or “roots tourism”. Bechtel and Jurgenson point out that “memory tourism” concerns «places with which one maintains a strong personal biographical relationship, these places are also those of past suffering, loss, or oppression experienced personally or by members of the group to which one belongs» (Bechtel, Jurgenson, 2013). Sabine Marschall suggests designating “homesick tourists”, «survivors and their immediate descendants who travel to places that were once their home, settlements from which they were forcibly removed through political forces, natural or human-made disasters and which are often damaged or even completely erased». She differentiates “homesick tourism” from “roots tourism” which «involves travellers who are removed by several generations from the ancestors whose traces they search. Homesick tourists are those who have experienced the migration and hold direct personal memories» (Marschall, 2015). As Marie-Blanche Fourcade points out, «many groups have suffered the vicissitudes of uprooting throughout history, both for economic reasons (famines, crises, slavery) and political reasons (dictatorships, wars, ethnic cleansing) and are gradually trying to weave or reweave the links that unite them to these abandoned territories. Root tourism is a symbolic return practice that establishes or restores concrete links, through the travel experience, with origins chosen because of their family or cultural nature» (Fourcade, 2010).
Root tourism is defined by researchers as a set of practices motivated by the desire to «go to see, soak up, confront one’s imagination with reality, find the traces of life before told by a parent”, among “tourists uprooted from their ancestral land [who] take the road in search of their past» (Fourcade, 2010).
Travellers and visitors actively and constantly contribute to the production of continuously recomposed memory spaces, which can lead to a redefinition of the very notion of a place of memory. About the villages of Silesia visited by Germans, Sabine Marschall points out: «The destination of their journey may not be declared heritage sites or dark tourism but rather they are idiosyncratic places of subjective meaning, associated with memories of trauma» (Marschall, 2015). These memory places are not recognized, branded and marketed by tourism authorities: «they lack all the hallmarks of heritagization, restoration, and touristic commodification, and there may not be guided tours, souvenirs sellers or other touristic services on offer». But precisely, the lack of explanations and interpretations leads to emptiness and silence that allows, according to Marschall: «the visitor imaginatively reconstruct the invisible parts and suggest the historical social formations of their genesis […] For me, the deep sense of authenticity derived precisely from the silence of the ruins».
Tourist practices and experiences are shaped by many elements belonging to their personal stories but are also framed by national traditions and global cultures. The fact they develop ritualized practices and “performances” in places of memory often shaped by dominant stakeholders (starting with the state), doesn’t alter the fact that their practices and motivations are of great diversity. Comparative studies about different categories of visitors could be extended in research, to better understand how touring is actually linked to memory transmission – which leads us to the last part of this contribution.
4/ The social function of “remembrance tourism”. Like many other researchers, Sabine Marschall emphasises the strong link between tourism and remembrance: «Tourism is positioned as an extension of the process of remembering and as an act of resistance – against forgetting and, in some cases, against the erstwhile act of erasure» (Marschall, 2015).
Journeys and visits of places of memory may involve verification and consolidation of memories, corrections of memories distortion, and sometimes spontaneous recall. «What makes the touristic journey a unique mechanism of remembrance and act of memory work is that it entails motivation and organization, a commitment and determination to engage with the past» (Marschall, 2015).
Yet, the fact tourism may be an extension of the process of remembering appears to be an interesting point of discussion and of debate. Tourism raises many criticisms when associated with places of memory, denouncing the “suffocation of memory” by consumption practices, commercial exploitation and inappropriate behavior of tourists in search of the morbid and spectacular. The words of the French philosopher Alain Filkenkraut, son of a deportee, about Auschwitz in an interview given to the French newspaper Télérama in 2011, illustrate this criticism of tourism in a radical way, that goes as far as its rejection: comparing the transformation of Auschwitz concentration camp to a “Djerba of misfortune” invaded by “families”, he denounces the “great tourist curse” and expresses his skepticism on the educational value of the trips to Auschwitz for younger generations. To respect Auschwitz, he argues, we have to stop going there. The question of the uselessness, violence – or indecency – that tourism constitutes in places of memory is also raised since the tourist experience of visit seems futile and ineffective in transmitting memory. According to the philosopher transmission of “what really happened” must be based on other means: «there are the works of historians, there are the works of filmmakers, and there are above all, books, through which the essential part of the transmission should take place». Elite vision? This radical criticism, which runs counter to one of the great justifications of tourism in places of memory, its pedagogical virtue, is relayed by other historians underlining the illusion of authenticity (Sophie Wahnich about Auschwitz, 2011), or the emptiness and silence of the places. What is the point in keeping trying to “see” and “experiment”, when the «camp is naked, abstract, stripped of everything» (Alain Fielkenkraut, op cit, 2011)?
This reaction to the massification of tourism of the concentration camp of Auschwitz reveals, in an extreme way, the frequent criticism about tourism associated with places of death, war, and suffering, anchored in ethical perspectives, but also rooted in social representations of tourism and tourists: for many observers, tourism can lead to processes were tragic events may be trivialized or glamorised, violence and death may be presented as entertainment, which may prevent the visitor to connect to the horror of the tragedy. How can these places allow visitors or residents to link the past with the present? Does the touristic experience inspire only little reflection for the casual tourist? And, in another perspective, may tourism provoke resentment between previously opposed groups through the constant reminder of the painful past for whose living close?
This contribution ends with many questions that appear unsolved and demand further investigations and contextualized researches, involving reflexive and critical approaches about how researchers build their own categorizations and positioning themselves socially, politically and ethically. If memory has become a category of public action/activism, it can also be considered as an individual and collective “resource” through tourism, certainly variously appropriated, yet deeply anchored in the contemporary dynamics of our globalized world.
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