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Affective practices and the prison visit: learning at Port Arthur and the Cascades Female Factory

Amy McKernan (Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 2 November 2018

Issue publication date: 30 November 2018




The purpose of this paper is to consider the ways Port Arthur Historic Site and the Cascades Female Factory educate visitors using the often contentious and confronting histories of convictism in Australia.


The research was conducted between 2012 and 2015, and included analysis of exhibitions and education programs at the two sites, as well as interviews with core staff, and archival research. Analysis employed a methodological framework drawing on Margaret Wetherell’s (2012) notion of “affective practice”, as well as understandings of historical thinking in education developed by theorists and educators.


The two sites take differing approaches to educating visitors about the “uncomfortable” histories related to their heritage. Ultimately, this paper argues that the Cascades presents a greater ease with communicating the confronting aspects of the site’s history, while Port Arthur’s interpretive strategies are often focussed on countering widespread assumptions about the “darkness” and cruelty characteristic of the penal system in Australia. Overall, the analysis finds considerable potential in the “use” of confronting and contested history in teaching aimed at developing historical thought and empathy.


The research addresses an issue that is of central concern in heritage education at present – interpretations of confronting and contentious histories – and employs an innovative set of conceptual strategies and tools to gather insights of use to practitioners in heritage and education.



McKernan, A. (2018), "Affective practices and the prison visit: learning at Port Arthur and the Cascades Female Factory", History of Education Review, Vol. 47 No. 2, pp. 131-142.



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