Doing time-travel: Performing past and present at the prison museum

Jennifer Turner, Kimberley Peters

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

9 Citations (SciVal)


The transformation of former prisons into sites of “dark tourism” reflects a recent trend in the use of decommissioned buildings for alternative purposes, such as museums and other heritage sites, which emphasize “representations of death, disaster or atrocity for pedagogical and commercial purposes” (Walby and Piché, 2011: 452). Prisons are spaces that hold a morbid fascination for visitors who are unlikely to ever encounter such a space in their everyday lives (Strange and Kempa, 2003). Far from being a traditional tourist site, the prison museum is built upon consumer desire to access the inaccessible; to glimpse a life on the “inside” and all its assumed horrors from the comfort of being on the “outside” (Turner, 2013) – with the choice and liberty, to enter, to leave, to accept, or to reject any given exhibition or display (see Hall, 1973). Prison museums cater, on the one hand, to a market of visitors seeking such tourist experiences for entertainment (Adams, 2001; Schrift, 2004). On the other hand, they function to educate visitors about penal pasts, shaping contemporary understandings through engagement with carceral histories (see e.g., Baker, 2014: 1). In this chapter we focus on the ways in which a particular prison museum – the Galleries of Justice, in Nottingham, UK – informs and entertains while making the past usable in the present. The Galleries of Justice is a prison museum housed within a former courthouse and jail. It not only tells a penal history specific to the county of Nottinghamshire, UK; it also conveys a national carceral history, holding the official Her Majesty’s Prison Service archive collection. The museum also portrays the global connections of Britain’s penal past through exhibitions charting the period of transportation to the Americas and Australia (Baker, 2014; Galleries of Justice, n.d.d). During a two-year period of research investigating the manner in which prison museums allow those on the “outside” to access life “inside” (see Turner, 2013), we found performance to be a crucial technique in making the past usable and comprehensible to the visitor. By performance, we refer to the ways in which the past is not merely represented, but also embodied and brought to life in so-called “non-representational” ways (Thrift, 1996) – through costumed interpreters, audio guides, and by encouraging visitors to participate themselves as pseudoconvicts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHistorical geographies of prisons
Subtitle of host publicationUnlocking the usable carceral past
EditorsKaren M. Morin, Dominique Moran
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)978-1138850057
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2015

Publication series

NameRoutledge Research in Historical Geography


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