Titanic Belfast: Spatial Narratives and Sense of Place at the ‘World’s Leading Tourist Attraction’

Authors: Jason Grek-Martin*, Saint Mary's University
Topics: Tourism Geography, Cultural Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: spatial narrative, place, geographies of memory, heritage tourism, museums
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Gallier A, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Titanic Belfast was recently named the “World's Leading Tourist Attraction” at the 2016 World Travel Awards. This is a remarkable achievement for a new heritage attraction, albeit one which has drawn more than three million visitors since opening in 2012, as part of commemorations marking the centenary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Part of what makes Titanic Belfast so compelling is its ‘locational authenticity’ in the midst of the city’s historic docklands, positioned on the very site where Titanic and her sister ships were assembled, launched, and fitted out for trans-Atlantic service. Crucially, Titanic Belfast also makes effective use of spatial narrative (Azaryahu and Foote 2008) to offer visitors, not only an overarching chronological account of the ill-fated ship’s impressive rise and untimely demise, but also a compelling and embodied sense of the Titanic’s immense scale in three dimensions. Ultimately, these spatial narratives are deployed in the service of a dedicated place story about Edwardian Belfast—then considered “the largest and most important, prosperous, commercial and manufacturing city in Ireland,” as one display asserts. This approach overtly reorients and reframes the Titanic story, downplaying the well-known disaster narrative—with its macabre focus on the final hours unfolding in the featureless expanse of the frigid North Atlantic—in favour of a more intimate place story celebrating the birth of the great ship as the crowning achievement of an industrial Belfast in its full productive pomp. This paper will draw on recent field research at Titanic Belfast to analyze these spatial/platial narratives.

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