Deathways—our cultures of dying, interment, commemoration, and treatment of the dead—conceal and reveal our values in this world and the next. This reading seminar explores the history of how deathways in the Americas changed, endured, and were categorized, from before Columbus to about 1893 CE. Over this expanse of time, waves of religious, political, environmental, and epidemiological political changes—many due to European colonialism and the unfree Indigenous, African, and Asian labor it sought and employed after 1492—transformed a galaxy of deathways to what might be mistaken as a handful of options. Internally, however, American deathways contain a multitude of answers to one of life’s central questions: where and how we go—physically and spiritually—when we stop breathing. Much of our class’s work, then, is in learning how groups studied each other’s deathways to determine how closely they could converge without compromising internal beliefs. We will also see what happened when one group had the power to divert or deny the deathways of another, via conquest, conversion, or collection. Our subjects will be many—high-altitude human sacrifice under the Incas; the pre-colonial, colonial, and republican roots of Mexico’s Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead; the fingerbone of a Catholic saint buried at Jamestown; an African-American burial ground in Lower Manhattan; the display of Indigenous, African, and Latin American remains in nineteenth century Philadelphia—and its texts are similarly wide, drawing from history, anthropology, fiction, and primary sources. Its focus is on Indigenous and Colonial Latin America, but it will also explore the extension of other European colonies and nations in North America and the deathways they introduced, including, in the nineteenth century, the institutionalization of archaeology as a field of study (and, possibly, mortuary ritual in its own right). We’ll therefore read on Colonial English America and the early republican United States as well, and meet at sites in Philadelphia important to this latterly history, where the material culture of death from throughout the Americas can be contemplated: Penn’s University Museum, the Mütter Museum, and local cemeteries. Evaluation will be based on class participation, a presentation on one week’s readings, a book review, and a final paper that will ask students to apply their acquired knowledge to a primary source.
Day and Time: 
R 0130PM-0430PM
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