The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.

Centre for the History of European Discourses
University of Queensland
8 August 2007
The Work of the Dead:
Cremation and the Making of Modernity
Presented by
Professor Thomas W. Laqueur
Helen Fawcett Distinguished Professor
University of California, Berkeley
Venue:            University of Queensland Museum of Art, the James and Mary Emelia Mayne Centre, Saint-Lucia.
Date:               Wednesday 8 August 2007
Time:            5.30pm 

This lecture is part of a book that takes as its starting point Vico's observation that burial of the dead was one of the three “universal institutions of humanity” that produced and continued to sustain civil society.  This larger project is motivated by a question that lies at the core of what it is to be human:  "what work do the dead do in making civilization?" The lecture will sketch an answer through the history of cremation since the eighteenth century: its ties to neo-classicism and opposition to Baroque religiosity, its appropriation of technology and an ideology of cleanliness, its connections to and breaks with a hoary structure of meaning around dust and ashes, its place in the universal histories and anthropologies of the period. It aims to show how burning rather than burying the dead, as had been done for nearly two millennia, was a powerful way of staking out a self-consciously modern world view.  It seeks to resolve the specific historical/anthropological question by showing how the dead do work in quite specific national, political, religious, and aesthetic contexts.

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