Mortal Remains: Death in Early America

Overview

Mortal Remains introduces new methods of analyzing death and its crucial meanings over a 240-year period, from 1620 to 1860, untangling its influence on other forms of cultural expression, from religion and politics to race relations and the nature of war. In this volume historians and literary scholars join forces to explore how, in a medically primitive and politically evolving environment, mortality became an issue that was inseparable from national self-definition.

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Mortal Remains: Death in Early America

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Overview

Mortal Remains introduces new methods of analyzing death and its crucial meanings over a 240-year period, from 1620 to 1860, untangling its influence on other forms of cultural expression, from religion and politics to race relations and the nature of war. In this volume historians and literary scholars join forces to explore how, in a medically primitive and politically evolving environment, mortality became an issue that was inseparable from national self-definition.

Attempting to make sense of their suffering and loss while imagining a future of cultural permanence and spiritual value, early Americans crafted metaphors of death in particular ways that have shaped the national mythology. As the authors show, the American fascination with murder, dismembered bodies, and scenes of death, the allure of angel sightings, the rural cemetery movement, and the enshrinement of George Washington as a saintly father, constituted a distinct sensibility. Moreover, by exploring the idea of the vanishing Indian and the brutality of slavery, the authors demonstrate how a culture of violence and death had an early effect on the American collective consciousness.

Mortal Remains draws on a range of primary sources—from personal diaries and public addresses, satire and accounts of sensational crime—and makes a needed contribution to neglected aspects of cultural history. It illustrates the profound ways in which experiences with death and the imagery associated with it became enmeshed in American society, politics, and culture.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An important book that introduces new methods of analyzing death in early American history. . . . The book illustrates the profound ways that experiences with death and the imagery associated with death influenced not only religion but also other issues—national politics, gender politics, and race relations—that are easy to relate to our contemporary concerns. Isenberg's and Burnstein's work makes a significant contribution to the discussion of death and dying in American history and its value for interdisciplinary study."—Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"These 12 short, highly focused essays analyze how experiences with death and the imagery associated with it influenced US culture before 1860. . . . Recommended."—Choice

"Mortal Remains has set an impressive standard for scholarship on death in early America."—Journal of American History

"Mortal Remains, a collection of twelve essays on death in English-speaking America from the late 1600s to the middle decades of the 1800s, offers a sampling of current cultural historical scholarship and concerns."—Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812218237
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein are coholders of the Mary Frances Barnard Chair in Nineteenth-Century American History at the University of Tulsa. Isenberg is the author of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, winner of the 1999 SHEAR book prize. Burstein is the author of several books, including America's Jubilee.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

I. MORTALITY FOR THE MASSES
1. The Christian Origins of the Vanishing Indian
—Laura M. Stevens
2. Blood Will Out: Sensationalism, Horror, and the Roots of American Crime Literature
—Daniel A. Cohen
3. A Tale of Two Cities: Epidemics and the Rituals of Death in Eighteenth-Century Boston nd Philadelphia
—Robert V. Wells

II. THE POLITICS OF DEATH
4. Death and Satire: Dismembering the Body Politic
—Nancy Isenberg
5. Immortalizing the Founding Fathers: The Excesses of Public Eulogy
—Andrew Burstein
6. The Politics of Tears: Death in the Early American Novel
—Julia Stern

III. PHYSICAL REMAINS
7. Major André's Exhumation
—Michael Meranze
8. Patriotic Remains: Bones of Contention in the Early Republic
—Matthew Dennis
9. A Peculiar Mark of Infamy: Dismemberment, Burial, and Rebelliousness in Slave Societies
—Douglas R. Egerton

IV. AFTER LIFE
10. Elizabeth Reis, Immortal Messengers: Angels, Gender, and Power in Early America
—Douglas R. Egerton
11. "In the Midst of Life we are in Death": Affliction and Religion in Antebellum New York
—Nicholas Marshall
12. The Romantic Landscape: Washington Irving, Sleepy Hollow, and the Rural Cemetery Movement
—Thomas G. Connors

Notes
List of Contributors
Index

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