The Experience of Space and Place in World Heritage Site Management

  • Esther Kate Renwick

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


This thesis explores the relationship between academic discourse and visitor experience at World Heritage Sites, investigating whether it is possible to put ‘’authenticity based on sound research’’ at the heart of the visitor experience (ICOMOS 2011), whilst still “preserving and promoting the spirit of place” (ICOMOS 2008).
Using an original methodology inspired by phenomenography and ethnography, three case studies were used to look at the collective experiences of the other, as opposed to the self (as seen in phenomenology). Using participant observation, interviews and analysis of online reviews a comprehensive picture was built up of the embodied experience of the visitor. Three very different World Heritage Site case studies were used to represent typical U.K/European site types – the rural prehistoric site represented by the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, the Roman military site by Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall and the urban medieval secular and religious sites by Durham Castle and Cathedral. Exploring the visitor experience of these sites allowed comparative analysis, revealing a complex and embodied visitor engagement. Visitors proved more critical and actively mindful than they are often portrayed but struggled to connect with the monuments as the materiality of past communities, sites that were once vibrant living places.
Proposing the use of concepts of dwelling and embodied encounter this thesis provides a detailed case for rethinking the relationship between World Heritage Site Management Plans and Research Frameworks to prioritise the experiential. Interpreting not merely what remains, but what was there in the past, to bring the context back the these monuments in a more holistic manner; aspiring to a presentation that empowers the visitor by giving them access to more information in a way that is not data heavy but relies on their own experiences as a being-in-the-world.
Date of Award1 Mar 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SupervisorJane Downes (Supervisor), Simon Clarke (Supervisor) & Peter Howard (Supervisor)

Cite this