History and Its Dead

Thomas Laqueur has brought together half a century of research on modern European mortuary culture into an impressive narrative of how the Christian churchyard was replaced by the modern cemetery, how interment was partly replaced by the technology of cremation, and how writing and preserving the names of the dead coincided with democratization and social reform. Beyond the grand narrative of the history of modern burial, he also shows how the modern culture of history and memory is intertwined with the transformation of mortuary practices. On a deeper level, he points toward new ways of conceptualizing the relation between the living and the dead, leading up toward, if not fully confronting, the challenge that propels his own endeavor, namely the existential-ontological predicament of living after those who have been and the nature of spectrality.