History 297: 19th-Century Urban Chinese Death Ritual Literature Review

My Areas of Interest in History

Prompt 1, September 14, 2017: What themes interest you as a student of history? Consider books you’ve read in other courses.

As a student of history, I am generally more interested in themes in social history, which has only gained a large amount of focus from historians since the mid 20th-century.

I find myself generally interested in two specifics of history, primarily funerary and mourning techniques, especially in the Victorian Era, and secondly the roles of women throughout societies and notions of feminity and motherhood.

One of my primary interests in history is on funerary and mourning techniques. I am primarily fascinated with Victorian mourning practices, as the Victorians were ubiquitous with their obsession with death, however,

Funerals are in no way a small facet of society. Funerals tell us about a culture’s religious beliefs, gender roles, and the way in which they viewed human life and class distinctions. Funerals are permanent reminders of life and a society’s practices. Graveyards, gravestones, mausoleums, and funerary monuments can tell us not only about the individual who passed but also, their community’s views. For example, ancient Greeks would often place graveyards on the outskirts of town. At one time, “elaborate” funerary monuments were banned, as they were deemed too improper to be displayed for outsiders.

My favorite book dealing with the topic of death is actually a modern book, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, which is a memoir of Doughty’s early years in the funeral industry. This book introduced me to notions of death that were simultaneously progressive and traditional, and changed not only my view of the funeral industry in the modern era but also, how I examine topics of death and mourning historically.

Secondly, I am fascinated with notions of feminity throughout cultures, the roles that women held – both as mothers and beyond, and trying to gain an accurate picture of how women lived throughout history, outside of a modern lens

From a contemporary standpoint, we often fall into the trap of applying a too-modern lens to our study of the roles of women, believing that women generally led awful lives of oppression throughout history.

This is true to an extent, as according to many Classical and/or theocratic traditions, women were generally subordinate to men. However, we must keep in mind that the most people lived lives that were no way up to par with our modern standards of living. Up until the Industrial Revolution, the vast majority of people across cultures led agrarian lifestyles, so, therefore, men and women alike led often Spartan lives.

Another notion of gender that interests me is the notion of “patriarchy,” as it is often misused. We must keep in mind the meaning of the word “patriarchy,” because, in Classical times, the term refers to a fatherly role. There were sometimes women who held “patriarchal” power in their own right, most notably royal women in the British Isles. Finally, it interests me to consider



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