Blog Archives

Pokémon Go and the Sanctity of Heritage Landscapes

Soldiers' graves at the Kiiminki Church in northern Finland.

Soldiers’ graves at the Kiiminki Church in northern Finland.

One of Finland’s best-preserved wooden churches today sits outside Oulu, where the Kiiminki Church was completed in 1760.  The modest cruciform frame church in northern Finland was designed by church architect Matti Honka and is noted for its spectacularly well-preserved altar painted by Mikael Toppelius in the 1780s.  Like scores of other Finnish community church yards, the Kiiminki church is surrounded by a cemetery that includes the remains of local soldiers who fell during World War II.  Often referred to as “heroes’ cemeteries” or “hero graves,” these resting places are staples of the Finnish countryside testifying to the Finns’ concrete World War II losses—and at least implicitly underscoring the nation’s defense against global super powers.

In the midst of the Kiiminki cemetery a stream of visitors moves across the site in a very distinctive motion familiar everywhere in the world with wireless coverage.  In small groups shuffling forward, trading counsel, and studying their cell phone screens, Pokémon Go players hunt down virtual creatures in real-world surroundings including Kiiminki’s church and cemetery.  The augmented reality mode of Pokémon Go transforms prosaic spaces—neighborhoods, religious spaces, historic sites–into newly engaged landscapes populated by multi-colored creatures, Poké Stops to fortify your avatar’s supplies, and Poké Gyms to train and bond with other players. Read the rest of this entry

Heritage Exposed: Nudity at Historical Sites

Tourists at Angkor (image from Poso a poco).

Tourists at Angkor (image from Poco a poco).

In February American tourists Lindsey Kate Adams and Leslie Jan Adams were among the crowds at Cambodia’s Angkor, the 9th-15th century Khmer city and temple complex that UNESCO hails as the most famous archaeological site in southeast Asia.  The World Heritage Site sprawls over about 400 square kilometers, making it among the world’s largest archaeological sites and one of the most visited historical sites in the world.  The Adams sisters were among the thousands of visitors trooping through Angkor in February, with scores of them providing pictures of their journey and the astounding complex.  When the Arizona sisters reached the Preah Khan temple, they likewise documented their visit, yet like a modest but growing wave of contemporary tourists they departed from the conventional monument pose:  the women dropped their pants for a shot of their butts in the ancient temple, only to be nabbed by the authorities.  These increasingly common nude or partially disrobed pictures at historic sites tell us something about the aesthetic power of heritage even as they reveal its irrelevance to many of the Western tourists who are actually visiting historic places.

The Arizona travelers are not alone in their ambition to commemorate their historic site tourism with nude pictures.  In January three French tourists were deported after being caught in Angkor’s Banteay Kdei temple stripping for pictures of their Cambodian trek.  Five days before pictures appeared on Facebook depicting topless women at Angkor as well as Beijing’s Forbidden Palace.  In May a group of ten tourists posed naked in Malaysia on Mount Kinabalu, a World Heritage site distinguished by its botanical diversity (5000-6000 plant species can be found on the mountain).  Israeli traveler Amichay Rab’s My Naked Trip blog documents his tour of South America, where he stripped at a series of sites including Machu Picchu, Cuzco, and Monte Verde.  The facebook page and blog Naked at Monuments document sun-starved butts at sites including the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, and Athens. Read the rest of this entry

Roadside Rebels: Heritage Theatre and the Confederate Flag

In 1913 a Confederate veteran posed for this picture alongside the "conquered banner" (image from Library of Congress).

In 1913 a Confederate veteran posed for this picture alongside the “conquered banner” (image from Library of Congress).

Last weekend a Confederate battle flag rose alongside Interstate-95 in Chester, Virginia.  Chester is just south of Richmond, which is surrounded by Civil War landmarks including more than 30 preserved battlefields (e.g., New Market Heights and Chimborazo Hospital), the White House of the Confederacy, and the phalanx of Confederate heroes memorialized on Monument Avenue.  Planted by the Virginia Flaggers, the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia provides travelers a passing glimpse of America’s reduction of the Civil War to theater.

It was optimistic if not disingenuous for Free North Carolina to suggest that “The flag will serve to welcome visitors and commuters to Richmond, and remind them of our honorable Confederate history and heritage.”  The Virginia Flaggers repeated similar stale platitudes when it reduced the Chester flag to an homage to Confederate heritage, arguing that “Our battles are all defensive…in defense of the honor and good name of our ancestors, and against actions taken to dishonor them and desecrate their monuments and memorials.”

A 1907 Confederate reunion in RIchmond paraded along Monument Avenue in front of a Confederate flag (image from Library of Congress).

A 1907 Confederate reunion in Richmond paraded along Monument Avenue in front of a Confederate flag (image from Library of Congress).

On the one hand, the problem is not with the flag itself:  the Confederate flag could be an enormously productive symbol to discuss one of the nation’s most complicated historical moments.   On the other hand, it is naïve to suggest that reducing Confederate heritage to this symbol—and a clumsy theatrical event along I-95—can illuminate the war’s historical and moral contradictions.  Rather than honor the many people who fought and died for the lost cause, flag-waving performances hazard reducing historiography to mere emotional provocation.

Ultimately the Chester flag is barely even visible from the interstate, but the public theater may have become more consequential (and self-defeating) than the flag display itself.  After first decrying the placement of a flag in plain view of countless travelers in his wonderful Dead Confederates blog, Andy Hall conceded that the semi-secluded location made it a much less divisive symbol (see images of the flag in the Richmond Times-Dispatch).  By then, though, the flag’s installation had been reduced to media theatre that reduced heritage to shallow talking points about honor and enslavement. Read the rest of this entry