Law, Crime and Dark Tourism in the South West: Witness Seminar 1
  • Room 605, Rolle Building, University of Plymouth

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Witness Seminar 1 | 'Dark Tourism - the Popular Demand for Sensationalism'

There is a widespread interest in crime as past events fascinate today’s audiences and museums and tourist attractions address this part of our history through presenting crime stories. 

The interest displayed by visitors to a range of South West heritage venues with the capacity and will to present incidents of crime and the criminal justice system at work has stimulated a variety of approaches to the presentation of the events and the individuals who were the perpetrators and the victims of crime. They are presented through the lens of crime stories as well as of legal proceedings and the subsequent execution, transportation or incarceration of those found guilty. The issue that is increasingly concerning both academic experts in legal and crime history and heritage specialists is the ethical presentation of what often amounts to suffering, tragedy, and death.

A considerable range of venues in the South West face this challenge, including those associated with the Western Assize Circuit like the Bodmin Jail Museum and Littledean Jail Museum, as well as other heritage venues displaying aspects which can be identified as dark tourism. These include the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic (Boscastle), the prison equipment in the Merchant’s House (Plymouth) and visits to sites of wrecks and smuggling. With the potential for more to be developed and opened, including the planned Tavistock courtroom and police museum.

However, this kind of 'dark tourism' poses significant ethical challenges: every crime story is essentially a story of suffering, tragedy and death. They bear the potential for significant distress to descendants of perpetrators and victims among others. 

To illuminate this issue of ethical boundaries and good practice, the #CHITCHAT? team at the University of Plymouth hosted two linked witness seminars to discuss the challenges associated with dark tourism and its ethical presentation. 

The seminars involved South West academics, museum  staff, heritage experts, tourism specialists and attraction designers as well as members of the public to discuss the challenges associated with dark tourism and its ethical presentation. Both were chaired by experienced Witness Seminar Chair, Professor Judith Rowbotham.

  • Witness Seminar 1 | 'Dark Tourism - the Popular Demand for Sensationalism' will feature witnesses who are academics and heritage and archive specialists.
  • Witness Seminar 2 | 'Dark Tourism - Professional Responses to Popular Demand' will feature witnesses drawn from tourism specialists and attraction designers.


  • 09:30-10:00 - Arrival and registration
  • 10:00-12:00 - Witness Seminar 1
  • 12:00-13:00 - Lunch
  • 13:00-15:00 - Witness Seminar 2

The events were open to all. Contact for any queries.


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Today's events

Biography: Professor Judith Rowbotham

Professor Judith Rowbotham is a Visiting Professor and member of the #CHITCHAT? team at the University of Plymouth. An interdisciplinary scholar, working in legal and crime history and heritage, she is a highly experienced Witness Seminar Chair.

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