The permanent and official blog of the University of Leicester's School of Museum Studies PhD student conferences and special events.

30 March 2011

Hop the Twenty Seventh - All Hallows and Engagement

Kathrinne Duffy, Old Haunts - Halloween Festivities at Historic Sites and Museums

[As this research is rather new, nascent, in development, as it were, we're going to blog the abstract, rather than the response to it, at the request of Katherinne. It's interesting and fun research - and I hope we'll make sure that she continues with it!]

This presentation explores the growing trend of haunted houses coordinated by American museums and historic sites, particularly around Halloween. While these events may attract new and diverse audiences to historic sites, they also represent a departure from strictly educational programming. They tend instead toward sensationalism and legend. Sometimes they involve violent or taboo subject matter and are explicitly recommended for adults or older youth only.

How did haunted houses, along with ghost tours and paranormal investigations, become so popular? What value do they have for visitors and for historic sites? What lessons can museum professionals draw from them?

The author is now researching the origins and appeal of haunted houses at historic sites. Her hypothesis is that these macabre events fill a void in the cultural landscape. Because they take place at historic sites, they offer “authentic” experiences, in contrast to mediated or virtual entertainments. They give visitors a sense of active exploration and discovery, in contrast to the usual guided tours. And in a society that increasingly turns away from death, they encourage visitors to confront their own mortality, if only for an evening.

Yet haunted houses are not put on without peril. For example, fictionalized haunt narratives may leave visitors with the wrong impression of a site's true history and conflict with the education-based mission of most historical institutions. How have certain organizations succeeded in the balancing act? And what are the potential pitfalls?

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