Construction of Heritage and Identity in the Plague Village: Examining the Intersections of Local Identity, Heritage Tourism, and Local Heritage Museum in Eyam

  • Brandi Skipalis

Student thesis: Phd


In this thesis, I examine the ways in which the local identity as "the Plague Village" that has been built up in Eyam over the centuries intersects with heritage tourism and the local heritage museum in telling the story of Eyam's history with bubonic plague. The key areas of investigation are: 1) tourism in Eyam and the interactions between visitors and village residents, 2) the role of the local museum and other heritage projects in defining and constructing Eyam's public identity, 3) the secondary function of the museum as a memorial site, 4) the strategies employed by the museum in the design, display, and presentation of its exhibits, 5) the specific ways in which the museum describes and displays "the Plague", and 6) the issues surrounding a specific aspect of the Plague discourse addressed in the museum, the CCR5-Delta32 genetic mutation, which was the subject of genetic testing in Eyam to study its possible connection to surviving bubonic plague. Drawing on tourism research and heritage tourism studies, museum anthropology, anthropology of science, and medical anthropology, I show the interconnectedness and the complexity of heritage tourism in Eyam and the ways in which Eyam Museum contributes to this. Key Findings: 1) Heritage tourism is far more complex than can existing theories regarding "the gaze" suggest, and in Eyam, we see that the gaze is part of the picture, but the work of the imagination and the attempt by visitors to physically place themselves within the history they seek to learn about by walking particular routes and visiting particular spots are equally important in understanding the driving force behind the type of heritage tourism found in Eyam. 2) The museum is a very powerful driving force in Eyam's tourism, and it is the museum which determines what story is told to visitors and in what ways. It tells a history, but it also serves as a memorial to the people who died in Eyam's Plague outbreak, acting in some ways as a sacred site rather than as simply a museum. 3) Eyam Museum uses a variety of display formats, including dioramas, artefacts in glass cases, charts and graphs, drawings, and text panels. Its heavy use of text panels and its distinct lack of interactive displays differentiate Eyam Museum from other museums in Britain and in museum studies literature, but the museum's memorial function combined with lack of space and low budget mean that interactive displays are not being considered as an option at this time. 4) The Plague and "the gene" are seen as biomedical concepts in some ways, illustrated through a variety of methods, but at the same time, they are seen in social terms, as the Plague is the story of great suffering and loss for the village that is associated with specific names and individuals' life stories, while "the gene" is considered as an object of hope and amazement for its relationship not to bubonic plague, but to HIV, a "modern-day plague", making this part of the story told in the museum relevant and exciting to visitors to Eyam today.
Date of Award1 Aug 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJeanette Edwards (Supervisor) & Ian Fairweather (Supervisor)


  • England
  • Peak District
  • Eyam
  • Plague
  • Derbyshire
  • identity
  • museum
  • tourism
  • heritage
  • gaze

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