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Spectacles of Punishment: Representations of Poverty and Punishment in British Prison Museums

Johnson, Daniel (2019) Spectacles of Punishment: Representations of Poverty and Punishment in British Prison Museums. PhD thesis, University of York.

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When people visit museums, they are not empty vessels expecting to be filled with knowledge. They bring their own knowledge, experiences, and preconceived ideas with them. From the novels of Charles Dickens to popular television series, representations of crime and punishment are, and always have been a part of public consciousness. This thesis examines representations of poverty and punishment in four prison museums in the UK and seeks to further explore the stories of the people on display who were chosen to represent these narratives. By consulting a variety of sources including historical newspapers, film and television, museum reviews, and staff interviews, this thesis demonstrates that British prison museums have a responsibility to present truthful representations of historical individuals, as well provide adequate context and nuance to often-sensational displays. The thesis follows the metaphorical visitor experience starting with popular prison stereotypes that may influence visitor preconceptions before visits (chapter 1). It continues to follow visitors throughout the prison museum spaces, illuminating how these spaces are used to further the narratives of poverty and punishment through the celebration of the historical buildings, as well as present modern exhibitions (chapter 2). Within the buildings, prisoners and their keepers come to life through performance for visitors to engage with. These performances populate the historical spaces and add a humanising element to the potentially difficult narratives. (chapter 3). The final chapter questions the representations of the individuals and demonstrates that the stories visitors encounter often differ from their historical sources (chapter 4). In tracing the visitor journey and challenging the representation of historical individuals, this thesis argues that British prison museums have an ethical responsibility not only to present factual information to their visitors, but also to accurately represent the experiences of historical individuals whose stories are often manipulated for popular entertainment.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > History (York)
Depositing User: Mr Daniel Johnson
Date Deposited: 22 May 2020 15:10
Last Modified: 22 May 2020 15:10
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/26417

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