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Alicia Marchant (2013, 2014, 2016, 2017)
The University of Western Australia
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Fear and the Historical Past: Emotion, Temporality and Ghost Tours

The silence and soft glow of the lantern can make those long-gone seem very close at hand.” (Ghost Tour Brochure, Port Arthur Historic Site).

This project analyses the performative and affective elements of ghost tours at convict prison sites around Australia. In particular, it considers the work that fear does with regard to animating history, particularly the imagining of individuals from the past as physical and emotional beings.

Ghost Tour.  Photographer: Simon Birch; image courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority.

This project examines the ways in which people engage with the past through the emotion of fear. Contemporary ghost tours offer an immediate, and fearful, communion with the past. This project focuses on ghost tours offered at four prisons that operated within Australia in convict times, (Port Arthur in Southern Tasmania, The Cascades Female Factory in Hobart, Old Melbourne Gaol and Old Fremantle Gaol), to consider the work that fear does with regards to animating the historical subjects, and creating affective connections to the past. The project is particularly concerned with what fear does with regard to the ways in which male and female, and indigenous bodies from the past, are imagined as physical and emotional beings. What ghost tours offer is a narrative designed to shock and scare the participants, with stories of historical bodies in a range of traumatic emotional and physical states, including sick and insane, maimed and tortured, dead and dismembered. However, it is the supernatural and the possibility of encountering the sight or touch of the long-dead body that is perhaps the most fearful for participants on ghost tours. In this project I would like to consider the performative and affective elements of the ghost tours, and am particularly concerned with the practice of creating a simulacrum to evoke feelings. I will examine the ways in which fear appears to collapse temporality and brings an immediacy to the historical past, as well as providing a point of connection and familiarity between bodies and emotions of the past and of today.


Image: Ghost Tours. Photographer: Simon Birch; image courtesy Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority.

Events:

Past Talk: Alicia Marchant: ‘Fear and the Historical Past: Emotion, Temporality and the Ghost Tours of Port Arthur’, Port Arthur Historic Site Public Lecture Series, Port Arthur, Tasmania, 26 November 2015.