Victorian holding cells at Shire Hall courthouse museum

More than horrible histories?

In February 2020, Rose Wallis, Associate Director of the Regional History Centre, and Iona Keen, independent heritage consultant facilitated a collaborative workshop exploring public engagement with criminal justice histories in heritage contexts.

Stories, sites and the material culture of crime and punishment in the past are a continued source of popular interest. They also offer an opportunity to engage audiences with debates concerning the nature of crime, justice and punishment in the present. However, interpreting histories of criminal justice poses significant challenges: how do we create accurate, ethical and accessible visitor experiences that actively engage the public in the role of law past and present? Experiences that fulfil our aims as heritage organisations and practitioners, to educate and inspire, whilst still being commercially viable and a good day out?

The workshop brought together social and public historians, academics working in criminology, law and heritage tourism, independent heritage professionals, and curators from Bristol Museums, Ripon Museum Trust, and the National Justice Museum. The discussions, research and practice shared have been used to produce a ‘manifesto’ for the effective and ethical interpretation of criminal justice histories.

You can download and read the manifesto here.

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