Please find details below for additional publications and writing.
Good Mourning, America: Good Death and Loss in the 19th Century
Many of the rituals that we now understand to make up the American funerary tradition were developed and shaped in the 19th century and have impacted how death is understood, discussed, and honored in our contemporary culture. The historical conception of “the good death” spoke to the experience of those were dying, but also shaped the mourning traditions of the living. While “the good death” is often thought of in historical terms, its rituals continue today.
Photographs of the Dead at Antietam
The American Civil War was not only a political and cultural turning point but also the first American conflict to be documented by photographers. For the first time civilians were able to see the horrors of the modern battlefield without leaving the safety of their own community. With more than 620,000 deaths, the Civil War became the largest and most devastating war ever fought on American soil. On a single bloody day during the conflict, more than 3,600 soldiers fell dead on the banks of Antietam Creek in western Maryland. That day marked a turning point in how Americans looked at warfare. September 17, 1862 was a day marked by bloodshed, loss, and it left behind a remarkable photographic legacy.
The Labor of Death
In 2014, it is rather unheard of to have the living co-mingle with the dead. We imagine the bodies of our dead loved ones dying in the hospital, or in a nursing home, and occasionally in more troubling circumstances, such as accidents. It is safe to say, however, that those who make it to old age do not die in the comfort of their homes, or without medical intervention. We only view the dead in safe and specific circumstances, generally during a wake for our final goodbye. Upon death, whenever we may die, our bodies are swept away in body bags or covered in sheets, at the anonymous hands of the funeral professional. Our bodies are intervened upon with chemicals. We are embalmed and we are displayed. Others opt to be cremated, where our bodies are transformed into ashes. Our bodies are no longer bodies after life, but postmortem entities or commodities to be shuffled between rooms and removed from sight. For this talk, I will be using the genre of postmortem photography to understand the shifting “labor of death”, which I define as the processes or work that the living do for the dead, with special attention given to social and cultural norms. This includes the work of burial, and preparing the body, which we now look to death professionals to handle.
This piece was originally written for Poetry + Theory #1: Corpse Photography and awesome cameras, a lecture and reading at Sector 2337 in Chicago, IL.