Group Authored Reflection Paper

The River Street Walking Tour Project had several learning objectives. The first object was to locate sites of significance to the Boise African American community on River Street and to gain an appreciation for notable residents and cultural mores of this community. The second learning objective was to better understand the trajectory of African American history on River Street and in Boise as a whole. The last was to gain access to tools necessary to do further research into this history that is often overlooked in more traditional educational activities.

Project designers met the first learning objective through the design and execution of the walking tour itself. Participants are given a brochure as a guide to begin the tour and physically experience each site and its unique history through the augmented reality app content. Each site has its own combination of audio clips, photographs, and biographies of former residents of River Street, allowing the user to gain a more intimate glimpse of life in historic Boise.

In light of the new stadium being built on River Street, patterns of urban renewal, relocation of ethnic neighborhoods, and the displacement of people of color continue to mask the African American history in Boise and in urban areas all over the United States. The walking tour attempts to preserve some of the history so commonly lost in the destruction of African American communities during phases of commercial developments intended to ‘improve’ urban areas. This history is every bit as important to the character of Boise’s communities as the dominant narrative, and gives a greater context to the current diversity of Boise’s population.

The final learning objective was met through the inclusion of a list of places to gain more information after the tour and its quiz are completed. These places include the Idaho Black History Museum, the Idaho State Archives, books authored by local historians, Bill White’s digital map of River Street, and contributions from stakeholders. These materials can be accessed online or in person by an interested participant. By receiving input from local educators and stakeholders, we can continue to improve the presentation of this valuable information and have the potential for the inclusion of more stops on the tour in the future. Involving local school districts expands the knowledge of students and allows national issues to be more relatable.

As always, there are unforeseen challenges in developing a functioning project. In particular, communication can be difficult when there are many people involved in the creative process. Additionally, the attempt to include cutting edge technology in an educational project can be challenging when the technology itself is unfamiliar. Similarly, when project designers themselves do not have a personal grasp of the needs of a community, it can be difficult to ascertain the proper way to present deeply personal information in a neutral and educational manner. Project designers had to go out of their way to ensure that the stories being told were authentic to the stakeholder’s experience.

Communication difficulties were alleviated through near constant email contact and in-person discussion at design meetings. These meetings allowed for clarification issues to be resolved quickly and civilly with no opportunity for further confusion. Additionally, constant contact eliminated the possibility for unaddressed errors. Detailed research and hands on experience with Augmented Reality platforms, as well as the careful examination of other projects that utilized the same technology provided deeper comprehension of the technology’s possibilities.

Designers conducted interviews with stakeholders and worked closely with historians of the River Street area in order to properly vet the content of the app. Philip Thompson, the director of the Idaho Black History Museum, agreed to consult closely with the design team to ensure that the finished product would be both factually accurate and true to the experience of River Street’s original residents. Additional resources were provided by Boise State’s Special Collections and Archives, as well as from Boise State faculty advisors.

This project was inspired in part by Spokane Historical, which is a Curatescape created walking tour of the historical districts in Spokane, Washington. Additional inspiration was drawn from Bill White’s Google Maps representation of River Street. Jarrier et al.’s article on education techniques concerning mediation devices in museums described a deeper and more emotional connection with the history presented than more traditional interpretations were capable of inspiring. The River Street Walking Tour wanted to harness that deeper emotional connection that the authors described, which influenced both the app content and the platform used to deliver it.

The overall goal of the River Street Walking Tour is to deepen the connection of Boise’s people with its relatively unknown history. This is done in a less formal setting than a classroom could provide, increasing the likelihood that the information will be retained. By allowing participants to be in a particular location and to compare historical photographs with current realities, the walking tour allows the participants to feel physically connected to the history that is conveyed. Participation in the walking tour is free of cost and accessible to any interested party through the use of ADA compliance features. This is more important than ever, now that a large portion of River Street will be bulldozed to make way for a stadium and commercial district. This mirrors a similar situation in Chavez Ravine, where the Dodger’s Stadium obliterated a Mexican American community and the dearly held traditions therein. In the face of unfortunate economic realities of urban renewal efforts, the River Street Walking Tour will preserve a fraction of a community often overlooked by society as a whole.




Berg, Sven. “Downtown Boise baseball, soccer stadium in the works at Americana and Shoreline.” Idaho Statesman, February 10, 2017. Accessed April 23, 2017.


“Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story,” Independent Lens. Accessed April 23, 2017.


Eastern Washington University. “Spokane Historical.”, Accessed February 23, 2017.


Gruenewald, David A., Nancy Coppleman, and Anna Elam. “Our Place in History: Inspiring Place-Based Social History in Schools and Communities.” The Journal of Museum Education Vol. 32, No. 3 (2007): 233-242. Accessed April 22, 2017.


Holton, William. “Walking Tours for Teaching Urban History in Boston and Other Cities.” OAH Magazine of History Vol. 5, No. 2 Urban History (Fall, 1990): 14-19. Accessed April 25, 2017.


Jarrier, Elodie, and Dominique Bourgeon-Renault. “Impact of Medication Devices on the Museum Visit Experience and on Visitor’s Behavioural Intentions.” International Journal of Art’s Management Vol. 15, No. 1 (2012): 18-29. Accessed April 24, 2017.


Shallat, Todd. Ethnic Landmarks: Ten Historic Places that Define the City of Trees. Boise: The College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs, Boise State University, 2007.


White, Bill. “River Street Digital History Project”. Accessed April 19, 2017.

Gruesome suffering or heroic battleground

While reading the articles, I could not help the thoughts of what truly is dark tourism from running through my mind. Although most of the authors cited some form of what they either claimed to be dark tourism, or at minimum argued against others that saw it that way, the article that really peaked my interest was Numinous Objects by Rachel P. Maines and James J. Glynn. They brought up a couple of sites, though not necessarily in the exact context of dark tourism, such as Gettysburg. Although the clear mentality of Gettysburg as a battle for the North makes it a very different site than say Alcatraz, I couldn’t help but see a number of similarities. One, in both places people suffered and died. Two, I can hardly see anyone “wanting” to be involved in such an endeavor. Three,  they both can be said, as can any of the examples brought up in the articles, to have at least a hint of dark tourism involved with the location. Four, they can be viewed in different ways by the public.

Maines and Glynn say of Gettysburg, “Gettysburg and Atlanta for northerners are inspired by victories at great cost; for southern whites they are haunted by a specter of bitter and humiliating defeat.” (14) The United States’ Park Service has attempted multiple ways to push the natural beauty of the island of Alcatraz rather than its seedy inmates backgrounds. ( Carolyn Strange, and Michael Kempa. 2003. “Shades of dark tourism:Alcatraz and Robben Island”. Annals of Tourism Research. 30 (2): 386-405.) With these ideas in mind is it just a place of dark tourism or is it that the public simply wants to see it that way. Gettysburg is certainly not the iconic poster child for dark tourism, but could it be if it were presented or thought about differently? I think it is less about dark tourism and more about the morbidity of the human mind when forced to reflect on its own mortality. That being said, I think dark tourism, although it certainly has the capability of being based in part by supply, is more of a demand driven ideal.


Dark Tourism

Like my fellow classmates, I never thought to consider battlefields, camps, and the like as “dark tourism.” When I hear the phrase, I generally think of the more kitschy tours meant to entertain through shock and awe, regardless of their accuracy. Places like Auschwitz and the World Trade Center seem more to me like memorials than a fun place to go and be spooked. But I guess at the same time, they’re a little similar. I don’t know anyone who could go to One World Trade or to a concentration camp and not be prepared for a place like that to elicit an emotional response. I just hope that tourists’ initial reasons for visiting these two types of places would be different. That’s when it falls to curators and the like to make sure that the historical significance of a place is accurately represented.

A couple of years ago, I took a “haunted tour” of New Orleans that largely turned out to be a fundamental misunderstanding of Voodoo, an overemphasis of the city’s participation in the Civil War, and a walking tour of historically inaccurate sites from American Horror Story. Needless to say, I was disappointed. I didn’t necessarily show up to see ghosts, but I was excited to see some of the oldest parts of the city, and the roles that those places once played. That definitely wasn’t the point of the tour that I was on. I think it all comes down to drawing a line between meaningful and meaningless. If a site, a tour, whatever, can prove to you that what you’re seeing is meaningful to the narrative, worth preserving, worth retelling, then perhaps it’s alright. Auschwitz is obviously going to tell you an important story. Madame LaLaurie & Marie Leveau are going to teach you about the roles of white and Creole women in 18th/19th century New Orleans. But you have to tell the stories accurately – not just to get a crowd.

Preserving bodies (or pieces of bodies) because of scientific significance, such as the quintuplets, is going to help tell a larger story – what was medicine like at the time? How were people dying, and why? What did people consider worth saving? Saving pieces of presidents is still something that I’m trying to wrap my head around, but I can sort of see why it’s done. It tells those same stories, and helps answer those same questions, looking at the way that this country revered it’s heroes, and how they shaped the narratives around their death. As long as the collection and preservation is done ethically, I guess I don’t really have a problem with it. If that’s what thrills you (and you can explain to me exactly why), then by all means, enjoy.

Lest we forget?

Over this last summer, my family and I drove from one end of the continent to another. Along the way we stopped at the Little Big Horn, where some of my children (and Lacey) had no idea as to what had happened there. It added 16 hours to our trip.

While driving across Missouri I detoured us two hours out of the way to drive through the small speck of a town called Centralia. image image imageWhy did I subject my family to another two hours on the road when they had already been in the car for twice that long? Because I had written a paper on the event, and I wanted to see the landscape for myself.

And that is what I think is the difference between the various kinds of dark tourism. If you go to gawk at the death and mutilation, the horror and the death, then you’re a terrible person, and you probably deserve to have bad things happen to you. The same goes for tourist companies who promote that sort of ghoulish entertainment (like the people who say “come to Tombstone and watch the gunfight at the O.K. Corral”). But if you are interested in an event, or the history of a place, or any of those other “good” reasons Walter mentioned in his article (information, remembrance, education, memento mori) then it is my belief that visiting the place is, in some ways, the same as any other primary source.

Dark Tourism

I go to places of death on different occasions due to the fact that I am a military historian but did not realize that this kind of tourism had a name. Dark tourism seems to be a major part of history tours in general from battlefields, prisons, prisoner of war camps, and even sanitariums. The celebration of death is also used in religious and public domains to make money as well as remember heritage. The day of the dead in Mexico is one such event others include frozen dead guy days in Nederland Colorado where the community comes together to raise funds to keep a frozen Norwegian guy frozen each year around March per his wishes. Each major place or event surrounding dark tourism is linked with media. Documentaries or TV specials give insight into these dark places by passing on the story or tragedy of the event or place to the wider public. “There is a close link between the media and dark tourism. I can visit Auschwitz, or I can watch a documentary about it on TV. I can visit First World War battlefields, or I can read a novel about their pity and their pain. I can visit the site of the battle of Culloden, or watch a re-enactment of it in a TV docu-drama.”[1] The dead have a huge impact on our society because much can be learned geologically and archeologically by the remains. Disease or malnourishment can be concluded through testing of remains and historical sites to give the public a glimpse of what life might be like back in those days.

The problem with some of dark tourism is that it can take away from the site due to its draw of being haunted. Haunted tours are big business in the Southern United States in most historical cities such as Savanah, Georgia, St. Augustine, Florida, and Charleston, South Carolina. I have been on some of these ghost tours and they give good history mixed with ghost tails. The problem is I am normally more focused on the history and could care less about the ghost parts. I am different when it comes to the majority of people who go on these tours because they are more interested in the ghosts. My question is does the ghost tours make the historical place of death easier for the general public to swallow then just saying it was place of immense death? If treating a prison or pow camp like a Halloween haunted warehouse make the public more accepting of the deaths that occurred there? When I went to Andersonville civil war prison camp that place made emotionally sad and somber. I feel that how it should be going to place like that, I would feel the same way when I go to Auschwitz Birkenau. Dark tourism can be a useful tool to pass on dark horrific history of large amounts of deaths so that the general public can better digest it. I feel some places that is not acceptable and should be uncomfortable and treated more like shrines and cemeteries. They should be respected and should make the public have a sad emotional response. The Holocaust museum is a prime example of this, you should feel sad and even horrified by the actions of peoples and countries exterminating large population of people.


[1]R. Sharpley & P. Stone, eds The Darker Side of Travel: the theory and practice of dark tourism, Bristol: Channel View Publications, 2009.


From Privates to Presidents

Reading the article From Privates to Presidents by Lenore T. Barbian and Paul S. Sledzik provided details on how the deceased of our land are preserved and studied. I liked how the article discussed various aspects regarding how human remains are reviewed and researched and how anatomical subjects are displayed and protected by museums and researchers. Barbian and Sledzik make statements throughout the article from various museums and experts about how human remains are studied, such as the remains of presidents and Civil War soldiers studied for historical significance. The article also discussed how humans respond differently to human remains depending on their cultural beliefs, where some people find it disgusting and others find it fascinating.  Particularly sacred is the study of ancient skeletons that are protected by the The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), or the bodies of Catholic Saints that are preserved in reliquaries. One question that historians and archaeologists ask themselves is, “What are human remains?” According to the article, the word known as “remaneo,” means “to remain behind.” Only a few groups of individuals in the field of history study human remains. In the National Museum of Health and Medicine’s (NMHM) Anatomical Collections section, the museum has spent over two decades studying the remains of several humans from different cultures. The NMHM of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology is among the few museums in the country that currently collects human remains, and puts them on exhibit for the public. This museum participation gives valuable awareness to studies on human remains, for both museum visitors and workers on how body parts of deceased individuals are preserved.

Another study on remains would be described in the anatomy study of the remains of President Abraham Lincoln. I believe that if people read this, they will discover how examining the bodies of many historic individuals could benefit both history and medicine. After Lincoln’s death, pathologists Colonel Joseph Woodward and Major Edward Curtis, who served under U.S. Army Surgeon General J.K. Barnes performed an autopsy of the deceased president’s remains. Their studies of Lincoln’s body appears in Medical and Surgical History, where modern medicine professionals examine their findings on the gunshot wound in Abraham Lincoln’s skull, which aids in research for several others cases involving similar assassinations. The specimens of Lincoln’s body recovered from the autopsy have become a vital piece of American history, crucial to American culture, including bone fragments from Lincoln’s skull and some strands from Lincoln’s hair.

Civil War studies have become a fascination in historic examinations and medical autopsy studies. The Civil War collection of deceased people is quite significant for the number of relatives of the departed that come to visit the displayed exhibits. I think that those who come to see their long dead relatives at this exhibition brings some family connections to the museum.   “Although researchers interested in military medicine or military history often use the collection, the most intriguing requests come from families with stories about great-grandpa’s leg in Washington.” (Barbian and Sledzik) Military studies of the dead are quite the historic topic, as I have read in many textbooks and seen on many websites.  Americans are very respectful of those who have served our country bravely and lost their lives.  Because of that, there is a great emphasis on finding soldiers who are did not come home so, “Millions of dollars are spent in the search for and identification of soldiers who remain missing in action.” According to the writings of Barbian and Sledzik, a famous man of the soldiers to serve in the Vietnam War who was identified in the Tomb of the Unknowns, as a result of DNA analysis, is Michael Joseph Blassie. In 1991, thanks to the development of identification technology, extraction and amplification, by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL),  his remains were correctly identified and he was given a proper burial in his hometown with his family in attendance.  The peace of mind and comfort that this brought to Blassie’s family as well as many other families who lost loved ones in horrific wars, was worth the cost of the Civil War specimens.

In conclusion, Barbian and Sledzik state “museums, as the stewards of history, have a commitment to maintain biological materials.” This statement I reason to be true because these facilities preserve and display the historical antiquities, such as the bodies of those who have passed, and without them we would not be able to understand the lessons of the past, and the lives of the men and women who existed before us. The ethical questions that surround the research and display of human remains will continue to challenge us as human beings, medical researchers, and historians.  Barbian states “denying the visitor access to these materials denies them knowledge of themselves.”  It is of tremendous importance that we insure that the bodies of the departed be cared for, by their families or the government willing to protect them.

Not just Haunted Tours and Catacombs

The handful of articles that we read for class this week concerning dark tourism sparked many thoughts on concepts that I had not previously pondered in depth.  The overarching theme that emerged for me was that dark tourism can include many different things and much of the time is dictated by personal beliefs.  Like some of my classmates, I had defined dark tourism as haunted tours, exploring catacombs and prisons, and visiting places perhaps more dedicated to profit than education.  In my ignorance, I had not considered certain museums, memorials, disaster sites, or battlefields to be part of it, which now seems obvious to me.  Unwittingly, I suppose I fit in with the people attracted to some of the dark tourism since at the top of my list of places to visit is the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor; essentially a giant metal coffin.  Another continuity between all of these articles was that people desire to see artifacts or buildings in person, and that by actually being there you experience something that pictures and documentaries might not capture.  “Numinous Objects” explored this idea a little bit with mentioning how some museum collections or objects become part of a community’s spiritual identity and that any proposed changes are often met with rejection.

The notion that I kept grappling with was the relationship between entertainment, profit, and education.  I guess it boils down to the goals of the institution and the motivations of the visitors, while understanding that there will be some overlap depending on the circumstances.  Those relationships rely on the organization in charge, their treatment and presentation of artifacts and history, as well as ethical considerations.  Especially regarding human remains, ethical subjectivity is a line that is difficult to define.  “From Privates to Presidents” addressed this idea by stating that the Army Medical Museum is government-run, and has a good relationship with visitors, usually family members connected to a specimen.  Comparing the treatment of Alcatraz and Robben Island illustrates how similar sites can have different atmospheres.  Alcatraz gained commercialized representations from the media, while Robben Island attracted visitors because of Nelson Mandela’s time there.  All of this got me wondering about access to museums and heritage sites.  If they’re spouting educational goals for visitors, should these heritage sites charge admission?  I realize that revenue is needed for employee salaries and maintenance, so it’s probably not feasible.  I was just pondering the weird construct where visitors pay to see human remains or oddities and the ethical ideas surrounding making money off the dead and suffering.  The short article below from National Geographic explored this idea as well.  There are no easy answers and I waver back and forth.  Ultimately, I will still visit these dark tourism sites and pay admission if they require it, but it’s something that’s got me thinking.

Tourism-An Evolving Creature

The first article,  A Dark Tourism Spectrum actually opened my eyes to the actual “dark” side of tourism that I don’t think about as much. When I think of dark tourism, I imagine ghost tours, the Catacombs of Paris, and weird places in cities that aren’t usually in the guide books. I never really think of dark tourism in regards to Auschwitz or memorial sites like Ground Zero. The author tries to understand why some tourists are fascinated with these kinds of areas and tours, but I honestly don’t see much wrong with it. As long as people aren’t “celebrating” a specific tragedy by going to Ground Zero or Auschwitz, then there is something very sobering about standing in sites like those. I feel that if we all ignored those sites, we would be forgetting them to an extent. An interesting point that Dark Tourism: Mediating Between the Dead and the Living brings up is the fact that people are more intrigued with dark tourism surrounding deaths that are uncommon. People don’t want to visit sites where people suffered from cancer or strokes, but want to visit sites were people died from “crazy” things that aren’t common for everyday people. I think this comes from a deep mental state that is intrigued by death while being scared of your own.

Another aspect of death that I didn’t think about until these readings is how we as a society deal with dead bodies. The article, From Privates to Presidents really opened my eyes to that topic. I guess it is a little strange that we have remains from Presidents in museums and other bloody relics, but it honestly doesn’t bother me. In some cases, preserving artifacts like President Lincoln’s bone fragments or unknown soldiers’ bodies can have heavy personal impacts on museum goers just seeing sights like Ground Zero and Auschwitz. This also relates to the Numinous Objects article which asserts that historical artifacts tell stories and can have personal significance to people. There’s a difference between looking at an image of an event or a person and actually seeing the object in front of you. My favorite quote from this article that I think really sums up how fascinating and personally touching artifacts can be is: “Harriet Tubman’s apple trees, still producing fruit on her farmstead in Auburn, New York, embody the peace and liberty she sought for herself and her people in more than thirty Underground Railroad expeditions into the heartland of slavery. The trees stand in silent counterpoint to the famous photograph of Tubman in uniform, leaning on the long rifle she carried for so many years before she had the freedom to pick up a hoe.” (Numinous Objects, pg. 12) Something as simple as the apple trees Tubman planted and took care of can be simple reminders of our past.

While dark tourism might be weird and scary, I think aspects of it are very beneficial and can be deeply moving for visitors. While celebrating atrocities and deaths is terrible and should not be encouraged, by limiting dark tourism we are in danger of sweeping atrocities under the rug and only teaching them in history books (if we’re lucky). There’s a deep feeling that I think people truly want to experience that you can’t get from watching a documentary or hearing about events. You kind of just…have to be there, right?

How Dark Should we Go to Promote Tourism?

When I heard the term “dark tourism” I assumed it was after-hour’s tours and ghost stories. Reading chronologically, I began with Numinous Objects and I thought, “Oh, relics.” From Privates to Presidents disabused me. Appreciating the respect shown by curators, seeing the value derived from collection, (DNA for example) and understanding the historic significance of collection, did not keep me from being mortified that any of it was put on public display or that contents are photographed for family members.

Shades of Dark Tourism showed me that, from an academic standpoint at least, there is a debate about “The curious connection between the sad and the bad and their touristic representations has generated academic and ethical debate about the ways in which leisure and pleasure are mixed with tragedy.”[1]

Swinging between the macabre and the academic, the remaining articles disturbed me so much that I struggled. Are we actually debating “shades of darkness?”  This is just another manifestation of our fascination with death and brutality. We watch Jihadi John behead victims, or the execution murder of Robert Godwin, Sr. in Cleveland or the brutalization of an impaired young man by four people in Chicago streamed live on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. We are fetishizing violence and making money, too. Are we learning about the penal system or penal reform, or just having fun getting our pictures taken inside open cells or in front of gallows? Yeah, you can do both, but that sounds like a rationalization.

10 Feb 2004, Cambodia --- A child looks at the piles of skulls, victims of the Khmer Rouge regime, displayed at a memorial to the victims at the Choeung Ek killing fields. --- Image by © Andrew Holbrooke/Corbis
10 Feb 2004, Cambodia — A child looks at the piles of skulls, victims of the Khmer Rouge regime, displayed at a memorial to the victims at the Choeung Ek killing fields. — Image by © Andrew Holbrooke/Corbis

Yes, displaying artifacts for scientific or educational purposes can useful.  “Bodies: The Exhibition” was educational, but I could barely tolerate being in the presence of these specimens and was shocked to see the lack of respect shown by many attending the exhibition.

Auschwitz may remind us of past atrocities, Robben Island of the indomitability of the human spirit, or the Bastille of revolution, but many such sites only serve to celebrate humanities ability to humiliate, brutalize or dehumanize one another.  I saw the interest in dark tourism in opposition to sites like Mount Vernon or Monticello where history is sanitized; slaves are referred to as servants and slave quarters are not displayed because of what they represent. Apparently, that is now seen as a way to attract a new group of visitors. This is exploiting, not honoring the past.

[1] Carolyn Strange and Michael Kempa, “Shades of Dark Tourism: Alcatraz and Robben Island,” Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 30, No. 2, (April 2002), 387

Dark Heritage

Dark Tourism is a funny thing that says an awful lot about the psychology of human beings. While I have participated in more than my fare share of this kind of tourism (my mother LOVES haunted hotels and I’ve been to all kinds of battlefields), there were some kinds of sites listed in the articles that I would have never thought of as ‘dark tourism locations.’ One type of heritage site I would not have classified among these other sites was slavery heritage sites. First, I was unaware that there was an active market for slavery heritage dark tourism outside of the associated Civil War sites. Second I had never considered purely educational sites to be a part of dark tourism, which is silly because the author of the Dark Tourism Spectrum article makes a great case as to why particular exhibits or entire museums would fall somewhere along that spectrum. What was obvious to me when looking at the Old Pen and Little Bighorn was much less obvious when considering the Holocaust Museum. Perhaps I am under the influence of more biases than I had previously considered.

I had also not fully considered the political and moral implications of some kinds of dark tourism. Certainly the photo series “Yolocaust” had made me reconsider what proper reverence for sites of great tragedy looks like. But I had not taken the cognitive leap to the assumption that there is a certain level of expected exploitation present at things like the human body exhibits in medical museums. I am interested to see how popular dark tourism continues to be in the intervening years.