Preserving the horrors of history
Professor William Logan ponders what to do
with painful sites.
The heritage status of prisons, massacre
and internment sites poses unique challenges for those who
manage and visit such sites, according to Deakin University’s
Professor William Logan and his co-author, Dr Keir Reeves
from Melbourne University.
In a new book to be released in December, Remembering
Places of Pain and Shame - Dealing with Difficult Heritage,
the question is asked whether there are some places whose
history is so painful that they should not be preserved.
Sites include such places of massacre and genocide as Myall
Creek, Auschwitz and Hiroshima; war time internment sites
like the Cowra Japanese War Ceremony; civil and political
prisons such as Port Arthur and Norfolk Island and places
of benevolent internment such as Kew Asylum, the Woomera refugee
centre and Bonegilla migrant camp.
“In the past there was an elitist view of what constituted
heritage, but heritage is not just mansions and cathedrals,”
said Professor Logan who is UNESCO Chair of Heritage and Urbanism
at Deakin University.
“Increasingly we have, as a society and as heritage
professionals, become interested in the aspects of our heritage
that reflect the painful and shameful incidents of our past.
So UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee broadened the definition
of places of cultural significance to include places of pain
“Places like Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Gorée and
Robben Island were placed on the heritage register because
such places would remind us of the awful things we did in
the past and so we would avoid doing them in the future.
“The inclusion of these places on the register in a
way takes us back to the original constitution of UNESCO which
states that since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in
the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed‚
but the definition of what is culturally significant can be
“If all forms of social behaviour can be regarded as
part of one’s culture where do you draw the line.”
Professor Logan said Ku Klux Klan rituals would be considered
culturally significant by some groups who might argue for
“Similarly there are efforts to make Anlong Veng, the
site of Pol Pot‚s grave in Cambodia, into a heritage
tourism destination,” he said.
“There is a case for allowing these places to be destroyed.
Unfortunately there are people in Cambodia who still treat
it as a shrine.
“A chapter in the book written by Colin Long, also from
Deakin University, and Keir Reeves puts the argument that
where these are relics of the perpetrators of pain and shame
that they should be allowed to disappear. Keeping places where
people suffered, there is a message in that; there is no useful
message in keeping Pol Pot's house.”
Professor Logan said among the challenges for heritage and
tourism professionals in interpreting such sites was ensuring
that the interpretations encouraged people visiting them to
think in useful and positive ways.
“I am not a supporter of Dark Tourism - travel to sites
associated with death or suffering - where some people go
to get a kick out of it,” he said. “Our task in
interpreting these places of pain and shame is to do it in
a sensitive way rather than treating them as places of entertainment
so people can get ghoulish pleasure out of it.”
The book is based on research funded through the Australian
Research Council Discovery grant.
For more information on Professor Logan: