Dr Tatiana Flessas

Future Phantoms: managing ‘dark’ heritage


This paper addresses the difficulty of protecting contemporary dark heritage sites. ‘Heritage’ is usually made out of the material of ‘history’ for economic and political purposes. It generates lucrative sites for the nation, group, or society that deploys ‘heritisation’ technologies. ‘Dark’ heritage, also known as ‘thanatourism’ or ‘the heritage of atrocity’ forms part of the heritage narrative, but also undercuts many of the purposes and investments that give it meaning. If one reason for this is the natural unwillingness to legitimize the kinds of events and narratives that are contrary to more traditional heritage projects, the more important and crucial issue is that of the capacity, or not, to recognize the importance of preserving these places for future populations. Consider the similarities, and differences, between the construction, accidental or deliberate, of memorial sites such as those at Auschwitz, Ground Zero, and the Calais Jungle Refugee Camp – which was razed to the ground in order to erase, or ignore, the truths experienced by thousands of people there. The decision to preserve a site of atrocity or trauma is extremely complex, and may happen accidentally or much later than in the present moment. What are our responsibilities to the vestiges of a less glorious ‘past,’ while still living it as a troubled present? The temptation on the part of the dominant group when confronted with a site of cultural trauma is to erase it, but the process of ‘heritagising’ is also one through which victims become recognized as witnesses. If this process fails in the present, the people who look for these sites in the future will haunt the spaces where memorials should exist, and do not.


Tatiana Flessas holds a BA in Philosophy from Wellesley College, a JD from Northeastern University School of Law, and an LLM and PhD from the London School of Economics. Before joining the LSE, she practiced law in the US and taught at the University Of Reading School Of Law. Her research interests are in cultural property and heritage law, law and social theory (recently including law in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), and law and literature.