Online Exhibition of the History of Ghost Tours: A Digital History Project

The subfield of dark tourism is one that invites both a sense of intrigue and skepticism in the eyes of some of the general public. In addition, historians may often look upon the field as something that is not rife with historical truths and instead a place for businesses to make a profit. And it’s hard to blame them. However, recently the field has gotten a chance at redemption as historians consider the benefits these types of tours may have to disseminate history to the public. As someone who currently works as a ghost tour guide for a company in Alexandria called Alexandria Colonial tours I have seen first hand peoples positivity and eagerness to partake in these kinds of tours. Also, I think that the public loves learning about history in this manner, even if they don’t realize that that is precisely what they are doing when they take a ghost tour. I think that historians should give more attention to sharing our knowledge with the public through this method of public history. However, before we as historians dive fully into using ghost tours as a method of sharing history it is important to consider how we got to giving ghost tours in the first place. And that is what I aim to do in my digital history project.

To begin, I was inspired by a number of different factors including but not limited to Tiya Miles Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era to delve into the history of ghost tours. Some things to consider: What are the origins of ghost tours? How have ghost tours changed throughout the years? How have the public perceived them, and why? Can tours whos stories are entirely or partially made up still be effective methods for sharing history, or do they have to be rooted in historical sources? What sources have ghost tours used? These questions, along with others that may arise, will help me unravel the phenomenon of ghost tours that have so captured the public over the years. In order to share my findings I intend to build a online exhibit that will combine research, photos, and possibly other media to provide a history of ghost tours that will serve to show that there is history behind the stories. This will hopefully convince historians that ghost tours are an effective method to share history with the public.

Next, my method of building this project will be through the software ArcGIS StoryMaps by esri, and for our purposes known as StoryMaps.

Overview Page. Courtesy of Ersi

StoryMaps is a type of software that allows for mapping to be used in ways that allow users to use a variety of methods to create content. In my case, I will use it to create a story that is an online exhibit on the history of ghost tours. One thing that will be beneficial is that the pictures and other media seem to be very easy to implement, and the quality is quite good. Another thing I like is that I will be able to add text to the photos, and that will allow me to provide context to the history. Another thing is that this is apparently easy to disseminate to people like classes or the public as referenced on the StoryMaps website.

Finally, this project will help public historians understand the historical value of both ghost tours and dark tourism in general. By exploring the history of ghost tours I hope to prove that ghost tours are a viable method for public history and should be taken more seriously by all historians. One thing that I may find a bit difficult is that I am unsure of the volume of writings in an academic setting done about ghost tours that might provide me with the history of the industry. However, I have no doubt that I will be able to complete the project and provide an excellent history of ghost tours. Hopefully you will all find something helpful in this project that may help in your future as historians.

-Bryce Thomas

One Reply to “Online Exhibition of the History of Ghost Tours: A Digital History Project”

  1. Hi Bryce,

    I think this is an interesting, and likely very engaging, topic for a project. It’s also great to know that this draws directly on your experience working as a tour guide.

    Working in StoryMaps makes a lot of sense. It’s a very dynamic and engaging platform and you can likely do a lot in it with maps if you end up with some major geographic components to map out.

    My sense is the biggest thing to iron out for this project, if you were to go ahead with it, is what you would draw on for sources and how you would scope it in terms of time and space. That is, I could see something about this that is broadly focused on key ghost tours that were developed across the country, but I could also see focusing on something like just colonial U.S. history, or focused on a region, like the D.C. Metro area. How you scope the region and topic of this will ostensibly also be shaped by what kinds of sources you can draw from. I’m guessing that you can likely find a lot about various current ghost tours from the websites of the organizations that run the tours. That likely also could get you leads on historical sources about the people and places that are featured in the tours too. That is all to say that there is a lot of latitude to work with in scoping in on what you would present in the project.

    Altogether, this is a compelling topic and I think it’s likely something that a lot of folks would be interested in.

    Best, Trevor

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