Social Relationships and Death:

Social Relationships and Death: Imagery and Language on Grave Markers
In this course, we have learned quite a bit about the functions of funerals and burials, bereavement, and normative versus non-normative timing and types of death throughout history. We have also learned that the type and planning of funerals and the imagery and language used to describe the dead is both a function of the decedent’s identity and that of their loved ones and community. This project is inspired by Ritter’s (2012) thesis “Grave Exclamations: An Analysis of Tombstones and Their Use as Narrative of Self”. For this option, you will focus on social relationships and primarily family relationships in analyzing the wording and imagery on gravestones and how these change historically.
At the cemetery: Document between 30-50 grave markers. I suggest that you use a camera to document the gravestones so that you can remember them when you get home. Be sure to choose gravestones from men and women, and from those with different ages at death and different historical periods (but you would be surprised at how these change even in 50 years). Note: I recommend you take photos of your grave markers for writing the paper, but you do not need to include the pictures in your paper.
At home: The main questions your paper will address are: How do the primary social relationships we carry throughout life define who we are in death? How do they define those we leave behind, their grief, and how they remember us? *Note: Although we have not analyzed different common symbols used on grave markers, a number of genealogy and other “history buff” websites offer the meanings behind symbols. These sites can be searched and cited in your research in what grave symbols represent. See for example: Here are some questions to guide your paper:
1. Spouses – Are their consistent themes in images (rings, etc.) and language of spouses on gravestones? How are they different by gender? How are they different over historical time (for example: use of the term “wife of” was common historically but is rarer today. Men were rarely described as “husband of”. “Beloved” is another word that is often gendered and age dependent, as is listing the decedent’s occupation) Why do you think these consistencies and differences exist? How might historical shifts in these images and wording convey changing ideas about gender and marriage? Note: you do not have to compare spouses to each other, just examining wording on individual markers is sufficient in how individuals are and continue to be defined by spousal ties in death.
2. Parents/Family – How much of a role does parenthood and grandparenthood play in grave markers? Is the relationship between the decedent and family relationships (mother, father) apparent in the listing of children or words/images, suggesting motherhood/fatherhood? Does this vary by historical era? Does it vary by gender? How might these differences in historical time and gender reflect the importance placed on childbearing across ages or genders? How might it reflect changes in the number of children people have? How might changes in language of grandparenthood reflect a society increasingly living long enough to know and interact with multiple grandchildren as they grow up?
3. Children – How do markers of young decedents (infants, children, or teenagers) differ from adults and older adults in their imagery and language? What social relationships are reflected and how is wording different? Have these shifted historically?
4. Other Themes – Are there any other consistencies or themes that emerge? Are there religious or potentially cultural differences that you ascertain (depending on where you are geographically, there may be quite a lot of diversity or very little).
Remember that these questions are guidelines or ideas for you, you do not need to address all of them. They are meant to give you a range of options to explore in your papers based on the data you have available (for example, your cemetery only has
graves from 1950 to present but there is plenty of gender variation). As with your previous assignments/papers, the most important part of this project is to incorporate course concepts along with course materials and other scholarly literature you find to guide and support your findings.

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