Current Institutional Affiliation
History, University of Michigan

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2016
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of Michigan
The Afterlives of the Corpse in the Age of Reform

This dissertation is about the social, political and material afterlives of the dead body in early nineteenth-century London and how they shaped the kinds of change imaginable. Drawing on methods and approaches from anthropology, history and archeology, and from fields such as the history of the body, the senses, and emotions, I examine how the dead body survived its separation, abstraction and fragmentation by becoming the stuff of a morbid imagination. By focusing on pathological specimens as well as texts and images about the dead, I hope to reveal not only how the dead body was entangled with the bodies of the living, but how the study of the corpse is about the entanglement of ideas about the body as both cultural and natural. Examining the creation of cemeteries, the rise of vital statistics, the development of pathological museums as well as the popularity of mumies and anxieties about the blackening corpse between roughly 1780 and 1850, I suggest that reform was not only about the corpse, but that the corpse was also about reform. By articulating certain regimes of sensation and repertoires of affect, these technologies of disavowal (cemeteries, statistics, and specimens) were as much about controlling the bodies of the living as they were about controlling the bodies of the dead. But this study also seeks to reveal a tension at the heart the corpse's afterlives. It is, therefore, also about the restlessness of the dead body, its ability to body forth, or manifest the problems associated with the medicalization of death, industrialization and urbanization, and modern state- and empire-building. The afterlives of the corpse remain relevant to us today. Our thinking about organ transplants, human tissue research and the circulation of body parts, I believe, is indebted to nineteenth-century debates about the place, shape and meaning of the dead body.