chapter  15
14 Pages

Through the Lens of Affect – Interpreting Prison Buildings of the Past as Heritage in the Present

There is often a conflict today when old prisons are turned into cultural arenas: on one hand they stand out as sanitised buildings exemplifying the recognised architecture of a certain period − on the other hand they encapsulate a social history which on a personal level was full of emotional distress and loneliness. When these buildings are turned into contemporary cultural or recreational institutions, their context and meanings change fundamentally.1 This chapter focuses on some of the prisoners’ life-stories that lie hidden behind the walls, with an emphasis on understanding the historical context in which the prisoners lived and which determined their choices and future life paths. Old prisons fit easily into the classification ‘difficult’ (Logan and Reeves 2009), ‘uncomfortable’ (Merill and Schmith 2011), ‘dark’ (Strange and Kempa 2003; Welch 2013) and ‘dissonant heritage’ (Tunbridge and Ashworth 1996). The prison has played no role on the national or personal level which entitles it to a status as a recognised memorial site. On the contrary it represented a chapter in individual lives that many want to forget. The silencing of certain aspects of this history can – and sometimes must – take place. Whether cultural heritage managers want to acknowledge these uncomfortable personal life stories – and for what purpose – is a question I return to later. I then use these stories to discuss the tensions that exist in negotiation and disagreement about cultural heritage in Nordic democratic societies and the challenges they present to the future management of heritage.