Australian Ways of Death: A Social and Cultural History, 1840-1918

Australian Ways of Death: A Social and Cultural History, 1840-1918

Australian Ways of Death: A Social and Cultural History, 1840-1918

Australian Ways of Death: A Social and Cultural History, 1840-1918

Synopsis

This book examines where and how people have died in Australia; how they have been buried, mourned, and commemorated; and how social and regional factors have influenced mortality rates and people's consciousness of death and loss.

Excerpt

Death and bereavement are universal and inevitable facts of life for human beings in all societies. a study of dying and responses to death takes us to the heart of the history of any culture and sharpens our understanding of our own experience. the French historian Michel Vovelle has observed that ‘death emerges as a reflection of society’ because the way we die also affects the way we live. Despite the significance of death in human life, Ken Inglis and other scholars have observed ‘a modern distaste for the physical facts of mortality and a modern aversion to the darkness of mourning’. Graeme Griffin, a theological scholar, and Des Tobin, a funeral director, expressed concern in 1982 about the Australian tendency to avoid the subject of death and to minimise the expression of grief. Only in the last twenty years has death again become a subject of public concern and discussion, stimulated by the hospice movement and the aids epidemic, by debates about euthanasia, palliative care, and suicide rates, and by new developments in medical technology. Scholars in the social sciences and members of the caring professions have recently placed increasing emphasis on the need to study death and dying in contemporary society. However, historians in Australia have been slow to contribute to this important field.

Historians of France were the first to study the history of death in systematic and imaginative ways—notably Michel Vovelle, Pierre Chaunu, John McManners and Philippe Ariès. At the time I commenced my last book, Death in the Victorian Family (Oxford, 1996), little recent scholarly work had been published on the broader history of death in modern Britain; notable exceptions were the excellent books by Ruth Richardson, Death, Dissection and the Destitute (1987), and by Michael Wheeler, Death and the Future Life in Victorian Literature and Theology (1990). in the last ten years greater scholarly interest in death in Britain has encouraged more diverse . . .

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