The Unpleasant Duty: An Introduction to Postmortem Photography

“Place the body on a lounge or sofa, have the friends dress the head and shoulders as near as in life as possible, then politely request them to leave the room to you and aids, that you may not feel the embarrassment incumbent should they witness some little mishap liable to befall the occasion.” Since the inception of photography in the first half of the 19th century, photographing the dead has been an accepted memorial practice. Although it is often cast aside or scoffed at as some kind of bizarre and morbid happening, postmortem photographs represent a particular part of mourning in this era. These beautiful and moving images depict the last moment that a family would be able to grieve with their deceased loved one present. Beyond this, postmortem photographs speak to the mourning and funeral norms of the times.

 
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Preserving Culture, or a Brief History of the Jackalope 

The psyche and mythology of the American west is greatly shaped not only by its rugged landscape but by the many beasts that inhabit it. The wilderness vs. settlement distinction structures a simple understanding of American history, one particularly lacking in complex relationships between a landscape and its inhabitants. American Studies scholar Frieda Knobloch writes, “Nature makes culture possible, and a ‘culture’ looks back with a certain nostalgia to the nature that gave rise to it, at the same time that it is only through the transformation of nature that a culture understands itself as ‘advanced.’

 

General Access: Hair Jewelry and Godey’s Lady’s Book

The sentimental culture that flourished in the 19th century represents a particular elevation of platonic relationships, in which boundaries were blurred between friends and public displays of affection were not only tolerated, but encouraged. In the 21st century, it would be odd to collect my hair, weave it into the face of a brooch, and bestow it as a meaningful gift to a close friend. The Victorian era, however, celebrates a kind of skilled craft in which our own bodily remnants could be shared and celebrated openly. The history of hair jewelry, ornaments made by manipulating human hair, exemplifies the way in which sentimental culture has shifted over time.

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