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?

“This is what I’m always on about…”

This book should be required reading for every political science and history majors. It should also be included in any class discussing the Gilded Age, or the Industrial Revolution. Because the destruction caused by the capitalist pig-dogs of those ages will certainly be continued. It is a scathing indictment against laissez-faire economics and policies. I found it interesting that the author included examples from both the east and the west. Being a westerner I would have thought that this was just a western problem. But then again that would just be me being naive. This is “the violence inherent in the system” to again quote Dennis the anarcho-syndicalist. Capitalists will strip, and destroy in their pursuit of their drug of choice: money. And nothing, not regulations, not people, not history will stand in their way. It also shows the duplicity of a system in which the watchmen are paid (in part) by those who they are supposed to be watching.

But as for Dr. Madsen-Brooks’ description that this book was a downer, I would disagree. This book felt more like a call to arms, a voice crying I the wilderness, asking me to do something to try and change the way things are, make things better. Hopefully that is not the same sort of lost cause as anarcho-syndicalism.

Sad but True- Cue Metallica When Discussing the Government

Studying history has made me think at times that I’ve become immune to shock and outrage, and that nothing could phase me anymore.  But reading about these Heritage Laws and the way they operate left me dumbfounded once again.  I suppose I should not be surprised, given the complicated way our bureaucratic government operates, but it blows me away how easy the statutes and regulations could be manipulated and corrupted beyond their original intent.  As someone who was unfamiliar with these laws and regulations, I had no idea how they functioned or were enforced so this reading was certainly eye-opening to all the issues that have come up in the forty years since their implementation.  The sad but true reality that King relays is that these Heritage Laws are riddled with biased consultants, administration interests in profit, complicated review systems, and exclusion of the public from taking part in any aspect of the laws.  Even in chapter 8 when King introduced Caldwell’s alternatives in addition to his own, King is adamant that the system requires complete overhaul, not just the rectification of a few elements of the laws.  With this in mind, it seems like a very daunting task, which is precisely why nothing has been done to fix the statutes and regulations.

In my opinion, one of the most important issues that King raises is concerning the public’s involvement with Heritage Laws.  In chapter 6 he states that “people who want to protect some aspect of their heritage from destruction- often themselves don’t push for it, don’t insist on it, don’t even recognize it as something that government agencies ought to do.”  The very people who want to protect their environment or heritage are alienated within the system because of the jargon, lack of awareness and consultation, ignored input, and lack of funding to hire people like King to fight on the public’s behalf, and that seems wrong on all levels.  King detailed how he submitted a paper to agencies in chapter 7.  The subsequent response from the BLM illustrates how even an expert such as King gets pushed aside.  If he is given the runaround, I cannot imagine someone like me trying to make any sort of changes.  I guess all this just reaffirms that despite its importance, history is a depressing business and unfortunately, most people don’t care.

We did it to Ourselves

After reflecting on heritage protection laws, the only thing I can see when I close my eyes are the never-ending news articles on my Facebook wall detailing which government organizations the current administration is hell-bent on defunding. Is BigCorp going to build the thing at the place you love? Is that thing going to have a negative impact on the environment there? Too bad, we got rid of the EPA and all the other regulatory organizations, there’s no one left to do the evaluations you requested! Hope you like a little toxic waste with your childhood memories and cultural significance! At least these laws are consistent. Like our tax laws, they are nigh incomprehensible to someone that does not have years to figure out how they are actually supposed to work.

I agree with the author that just because a place has significance for one person does not mean that it is significant for the whole nation. “Progress” (whatever that is) should not be completely derailed for everyone as a whole just to save a tiny patch of land that is not important to more than one person. But I cannot help but think we could do better than this. Wilderness areas are important. National Parks are important. Conservation of our disappearing species is important. The newest installment of that big-box store? That one seam of dirty fossil fuel that cannot hope to save a dying industry dead in the middle of that sacred mountain? One developer’s pocket book? I cannot call these things significant on the same level.

I know I’m too sentimental for today’s economic realities. I really thought that I had a comprehensive list of things that I should be angry at congress about. We have got to do more or there will not be much of these types of sites left to bulldoze and build over.

Protecting Heritage

This in general, is a very important topic that I never have really considered. While reading Our Unprotected Heritage I kept wondering why I had never considered this to be an important topic before. Why do I assume that important laws like National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act are perfect and do their job? Have people simply become complacent in regards to fighting this kind of advantageous system? Is there nothing that is actually pure??

Terrifyingly enough, the first chapter of Our Unprotected Heritage explains each protection law and how the Bush administration has weakened their effect. Since this book was written in 2009, I am curious about how Thomas King views the Trump administration’s recent actions towards (or against) the environment. I feel like people in my generation especially take these laws for granted. We never had to live in an era where factories could dump chemicals into the water. But the terrifying part is that we have these magnificent laws in place, but they still don’t fully guarantee the protection of anything (examples being: Flint, Michigan’s water crisis, the Dakota Access Pipeline and pipelines like it). With these protections and laws being ignored more and more, we might as well continue to the point of humans being wiped out so Mother Earth can start over again without us.

The final chapter of this book is very important (I am always glad when author’s put in chapters actually calling for change).  While I tried to read this chapter optimistically, because of the current political climate, I was ultimately skeptical. Americans can try to make environmental and cultural protections important for everyone. We can try and make our politicians care about these issues. We can try and amend the Constitution. But how will any of that happen when money is awaiting the people who choose to ignore or manipulate the laws? How can we achieve anything when our own President sees the utmost importance in deregulating business to a point where businesses will once again be able to dump chemicals into lakes and build upon sacred cultural areas? I wonder if Thomas King has any answers for us now.

In regards to the book review of The Future of Heritage as Climates Change: Loss, Adaption Creativity, I am extremely sad at their main argument. I don’t want to believe that we have reached a point of no return but when it comes to climate change and the damages we have done to the Earth, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Hat in hand?

Perusing the applications for the Digital Projects for the Public grant, and the Digital Humanities Advancement grant I found the similarities between them illuminating. In some sections the wording are exactly the same. But the differences are striking. Striking in what each of the grants is intended to take care of, and what they are not able to take care of.

In order to be awarded the DHAG you have to be focused on a digital project that creates or enhances “experimental, computationally-based methods or techniques that contribute to the humanities … examines the history, criticism, and philosophy of digital culture and its impact on society.” Now this sounds fine, but then you look at what you can’t use the grant for… No digitizing records, unless you’re pioneering a new method for digitizing, no converting a scholarly journal, no undertaking political, religious, or social actions. But that’s all well and good. We can’t expect the National Endowment for the Humanities to just pay out money to just anything for any one. This one feels like “let’s tie STEM to the Humanities and see what we can shake out.”

The DPPG is supposed to fund digital projects that are supposed to “attract a broad, general, nonspecialist audience, either online or in person at venues such as museums, libraries or other cultural institutions.” These grants can be used to conduct research, storyboard, and design. But again these funds can’t be used to archive things, purchase art, artifacts or collections, or renovating production facilities.  But one could spend the money to create a game concerning the American Civil War, or first person tours of Mayan sites, or the app we are “thinking of making” for River Street.

In both cases they are supposed to be used to protect our cultural heritage, which is what I understand we are supposed to be discussing next week…

The Realities of Funding

Wow. After reading the articles, grants sure seem intimidating, in a weirdly complicated way for someone who has never looked at them before.  On the one hand, successful grant writing seems like it’s mostly just following instructions and using common sense.  But on the other, the writer must find the balance between vagueness and specificity.  For example, the grant reviewers do not want to get bogged down in minute details, but they also do not want something that is too broad and vague that does not convey relevance and significance.  I suppose that I found the process intimidating based on the sheer numbers of applications with just a small number of those applications accepted. It’s deceiving that the NEH grant page has an entire list of grants available, but in the grand scale of thousands of applications, the probability of getting chosen is very small.

When examining the Digital Projects for the Public and the Digital Humanities Advancement grants a few similarities emerge.  Both grants highlight acceptance of applications for projects in all phases of development related to digital projects.  This struck me as interesting because in my mind, most applications would be for projects still in theoretical development, but that is not the case.  Once started, projects may still receive funding, even if a project was abandoned and is now in need of revitalization.  Along those lines, both grants look for projects that are sustainable and deepen the understanding of a given field.  Since these are digitally focused, both grants stress appealing to a broad public audience, as well as students and other scholars.

The sample application narratives that I looked at for both grants, were wanting to utilize digital technologies to broaden and enhance techniques within history and archaeology.  One similarity that I noted was the fact that both applications wanted funding to bring together field professionals for meetings to best discuss how to implement digital technologies.  This was interesting to me because even though neither proposals had begun their projects while awaiting these meetings, both applications had outlined how the money would be used, their timelines for project completion, and the scholars involved.  To me, it looks like one key to these applications was showing the grant reviewers your dedication to organization, the ability to stick with a proposed timeline, knowing exactly what you are going to do and when.  They follow the guidelines, while remaining specific about the goals of the projects and their significance, but not emphasizing even little aspect of the projects.


In reading through the descriptions of the Digital Humanities Advancement Grant and the Digital Projects for the Public Grant, I noticed several similarities in their subject areas. The Digital Humanities Advancement Grant covers a project through all stages of its development, from early fact-finding through production and implementation. The Digital Projects for the Public grant requires that the portion of a project covered by the grant be entirely digital and only supports one stage of development, though it can be any stage. Both of these grants are aimed at presenting information to the public at large and attracting new audiences via whatever it is the project is funding.

Looking at the narrative samples for the two kinds of grants, it is immediately obvious why they were funded. Both grants took the time to explicitly lay out what their project was, what the money would be used for, the timeline for goals to be reached, and clear ties to the humanities. I looked at the Digital Archaeology (DHA) grant and the Digital Environmental History of the Americas (DPP) grant, and both of them read in a similar fashion. Both projects wanted to utilize technology to advance the general understanding of their field among the general public. It is good that these websites have examples of the narrative portion of grants that were funded as they allow new applicants to see what a strong narrative looks like. As this is the first section that can make or break a grant application, having these examples to look at wastes far less time than having to guess.

Money Pwease!

The Digital Humanities Advancement Grants (DHAG) focuses on the impact of technology on the humanities. The strength of this kind of grant is that projects can get funding for the lifetime of the project. This is important for some projects if they long processes that need funding for a number of years. This grant really focuses on preserving pieces of history and culture online for generations to come. Since this is a pretty broad topic, I feel like a lot of different and unique projects can get funding through this.

The Digital Projects for the Public grants is all about getting history (and humanities) out to the public, specifically using digital platforms. This grant supports a lot of different technologies that are focused on bringing history to the American public. For this grant, unlike the DHAG grant, individuals may apply. This is important for individual scholars, educators, or students who want to implement some kind of technology in their own field of work that will enhance whatever they might be working on.

Both of these grants focus on preserving or presenting humanities to the public. They both have levels of funding in which people can apply for. Projects do not have to apply for the first level of funding in order to get the third level of funding later. This to me is very important. Some projects simply need to start off with more money in order to achieve specific goals. One interesting thing that I noted on each grant website was that projects could not be used to “persuade audiences of a particular political, religious, or ideological point of view.” (pg. 7, The Digital Projects for the Public Grant) I wonder how projects surrounding topics like LGBTQ history, Black Lives Matter, Civil War/Slavery, Mexican immigration, etc get funding. Could any of these get funding through grants like these? Could a project dedicated to telling the story of Mexican migrant workers be denied? What about a project dedicated to digitizing interviews of Syrian refugees who have made it to America?

Also, I read the instructions wrong on the syllabus but I don’t feel like deleting all of my above work, so here are the strengths from the narratives:


The sample narrative, Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology really focuses on bringing technology to the humanities and helping a variety of fields through workshops understand how mobile devices can be used. I think this is very important in the historical and archaeological fields. Digitizing things can help speed up research and can help bring the public in.

The strength of Image Analysis for Archival Discovery is that it has a very particular goal in mind, finding and digitizing poetry in newspapers, but it also has the ability to help other historians. By creating new techniques to electronically scan newspapers for textual clues to find poetry, other historians can use that technology to find other topics in newspapers. This grant and the above Archaeology grant both would help other academics with their research techniques.

Digital Projects for the Public:

In the Exploring the Four Elements: Towards a Digital Environmental History of the Americas, they describe exhibits that will showcase the human engagement in earth, air, fire, and water. While they don’t show a very detailed plan of user-generated content, they do seem to be focused on reaching out to a more diverse museum crowd and hope to engage with them.

The Digital Giza: A New Portal to the Pyramids is focused on creating a 3D immersive computer model of the entire Giza Plateau. This kind of project is really focused on bringing digital history to the public. This kind of research and project could be useful in k-12 classrooms as well as college classrooms. This kind of project, like the Exploring the Four Elements project is focused on reaching a larger audience.