Morgan Meyer and Kate Woodthorpe 2007

University of Sheffield, UK

The return of the living dead: a dialogue between cemeteries and museums

Within the last decade there has been a revival in museum and heritage studies, reflecting the growth of their cultural and economic role in contemporary Western society. Whilst there have been some efforts to explore how cemeteries could benefit from this revival, to date cemeteries have not been widely included or recognised as ‘heritage’ spaces in either policy or research. This paper addresses this disparity and makes tentative links between cemeteries and museums in their wider social, cultural and institutional context, in an attempt to incorporate cemeteries into this heritage revival. Drawing upon two individual ethnographic projects on the Natural History Museum in Luxembourg and the City of London Cemetery respectively this paper discusses some of the similarities and differences between these two spaces, including their role and function in society. We also make comparisons of the persistent and contradictory role of the dead in the museum and in the cemetery, two environments within which they are both present and absent. Building on this, we examine how the management of these two sites are widely influenced by narratives of normative behaviour around ‘dead people’ and what constitutes the conservation and preservation of the dead. In an attempt to understand how these issues can be managed on a daily basis, the representation(s) of the dead in the cemetery and the museum will be examined in depth, exploring the scope for fruitful dialogue between these two spaces.


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