The Work of the Dead

Thomas Laqueur
Berkeley Book Chats
Work of the Dead Book Cover
Wednesday, Apr 20, 2016 | 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall
United States

Professor of History Thomas Laqueur is a pioneer of new cultural history and his books include The Work of the Dead (Princeton, 2015), Solitary Sex (Zone, 2003), Making Sex (Harvard, 1990), and Religion and Respectability (Yale, 1976). His new book, The Work of the Dead, offers a richly detailed account of how and why the living have cared for the dead, from antiquity to the twentieth century.

The Work of the Dead (Princeton, 2015) draws on a vast range of sources—from mortuary archaeology, medical tracts, letters, songs, poems, and novels to painting and landscapes in order to recover the work that the dead do for the living: making human communities that connect the past and the future. Laqueur shows how the churchyard became the dominant resting place of the dead during the Middle Ages and why the cemetery largely supplanted it during the modern period. He traces how and why since the nineteenth century we have come to gather the names of the dead on great lists and memorials and why being buried without a name has become so disturbing. Finally, Laqueur tells how modern cremation, begun as a fantasy of stripping death of its history, ultimately failed—and how even the ashes of the victims of the Holocaust have been preserved in culture.

After an introduction by Catherine Gallagher (English), Laqueur will speak briefly about his work and then open the floor for discussion.