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On 16 November 2016, the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures organised a workshop entitled Dark Heritage: Comparative Approaches to Troubled Pasts. In this short Q+A, the organiser of the event, Marieke Riethof, gives us a taste of how the event unfurled.

So Marieke, what was the inspiration for the workshop theme? 

The purpose of the workshop was to bring together research interests across different language areas in the department on one of the University’s main research priorities: heritage. We wanted the workshop to form the basis for research collaborations by attracting an audience beyond the department. The event also builds on Charles Forsdick’s project on dark tourism and prison museums as sites of memory. “Dark heritage” refers to heritage associated with death, conflict, and human rights violations. Researchers in this field analyse sites such as prison museums and memorials to human rights violations as well as other practices of commemoration and memorialisation.

What did the guest speakers talk about?


The Escuela Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA) former detention centre

We invited Dr Cara Levey (lecturer in Hispanic Studies at University College Cork) to speak about her research on memory and human rights violations in Argentina and Uruguay. In her presentation, she gave fascinating insights into the controversies surrounding the fate of sites where human rights violations took place during the dictatorships in these states. In the case of the clandestine detention centre ESMA (Naval School of Mechanics) in Buenos Aires, turning the site into a museum was controversial among human rights activists. In Montevideo, Uruguay, Punta Carretas prison was preserved after the end of the dictatorship, but transformed into a shopping centre with few indications of the building’s dark side.


Dürer’s Rhinoceros, inspired by the rhinoceros that was brought temporarily to Château d’If and that has now become a symbol of the island

Representing Francophone research, Dr Sophie Fuggle (senior lecturer in French at Nottingham Trent University) discussed the dark heritage theme from a philosophical and methodological perspective. In her talk, she examined representations of the Château d’If prison island and the Second World War internment camp Camp des Milles, both of which are located in the south of France. She also introduced us to the postcard as a methodological tool to interrogate the political and ethical dimensions of how dark heritage is represented.

How are you planning to take the topic forwards?

We asked Charles Forsdick to respond to the presentations as a starting point for a new research agenda. Drawing on the speakers’ emphasis on a modern languages perspective on the topic, Charles pointed out that this approach has the potential to challenge the predominantly Anglophone focus of research in this area. He argued that modern languages researchers can examine the translatability of concepts such as dark heritage across historical, linguistic and cultural boundaries.

The University of Liverpool has strong research interests in heritage, dark tourism, memory and human rights, and we plan to continue building a network of researchers interested in the theme.

The presentations are available to watch online at this link: https://stream.liv.ac.uk/b84vbrbf