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Trauma Tourism


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For the past few years, I have been doing global comparative research on trauma memorials. While the initial impetus for the work was the ongoing struggle to agree on a memorial for the World Trade Center site, my subsequent explorations have taken me to concentration camps in Germany, slave forts in Ghana, atomic bomb memorials in Japan, commemorations of the "American War" in Vietnam. Some of the key elements that have emerged in my research are the ways in which architecture and guide services are deployed to create and reinforce identification as well as dis-identification, the parallel between the tropes and devices of pilgrimage, the role that preparation plays in the probability of a transformative outcome, the dilemma of intrusive quotidian experiences, the use of "educational alibis" to counteract the suspect nature of "trauma tourism," the kinds of rituals enacted and other staged forms of interactivity, the place of nationalist pride at the place of grieving, and the ambivalence regarding suitable souvenirs.


Existing memorial studies have mostly framed the challenges as formal, architectural and representational, whereas my study emphasizes the social and performative dimensions of memorial culture. By considering the sites relationally and transnationally, I have observed commonalities and distinctions. Moreover, as trauma tourism develops alongside ecotourism and other socially engaged forms of travel, site visitors' experiences and expectations have an increasingly transnational dimension, which this creative work is well poised to capture. I do not mean, by considering together the memorials we make at the locations of trauma, to suggest any equivalence between very different instances of genocide. Rather, what these places have in common is not the nature of the events they recall but rather the memorial impulse, the challenge of "curating" intractable places, and the sometimes contradictory performances that visitors enact.


The memorials that I have explored to date are those that leave behind "desecrated" grounds, providing governments and foundations with profound curatorial challenges. But equally compelling are those memorials enacted performatively, poetically, peripatetically, cinematically, virtually, and orally. Un-sited memorials may reflect dispersed or suppressed traumas, some recent and some ancient, and/or varied cultural practices. While I initially believed I could distinguish natural from social trauma (with the latter as my focus), the Indonesian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina both demonstrated that natural disasters impact differentially along social fault lines. This project may have implications for public policy, memorial production, creative practice, and culture analysis.


Download and install Google Earth


Download and open Trauma Tourism.kmz


Double clicking on the Trauma Tourism.kmz file will launch Google Earth.

The file will appear in the 'Temporary Places' folder in the 'Places' window.

Drag the file to the 'My Places' folder.


To share your experiences at memory sites listed in the project or to suggest your own,

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