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The Materiality of Mourning: an Interdisciplinary Workshop

Call for papers:

Please email replies to, by 29th February 2016 at the latest.

The Materiality of Mourning: A 2-day interdisciplinary workshop at the University of Warwick, 19-20th May 2016. Funded by the Wellcome Trust

Organiser: Dr Zahra Newby, Dept of Classics and Ancient History, University of Warwick, UK.

Papers are invited for this interdisciplinary workshop, which aims to bring together scholars and practitioners across a range of disciplines for a two-day workshop exploring the roles and uses of images and objects in contexts of grief and mourning. Speakers’ UK travel and accommodation expenses will be met by funding provided by the Wellcome Trust.


Grief and bereavement are human constants, affecting all of us, across time, religions and cultures. Yet our responses to them are both emotionally and culturally conditioned, and can take a variety of forms. For historians, the remnants of past grief are often revealed to us through physical memorials: a tombstone, a carved epitaph, or a cherished possession which passes into the ownership of the bereaved. The physical object stands as a tangible remnant of embedded sets of relationships, emotions and desires which it is the job of the he historian to unpick.


This workshop sets out to explore the role of material objects and images in the processes of grief,mourning and commemoration, across a range of time periods and cultures. The aim is to open up awareness of the different ways of studying this material, allowing for cross-disciplinary insights which will deepen our understanding of both present and past societies, while allowing for the recognition of social and cultural differences. Papers are invited from both academic researchers and practitioners involved in supporting the bereaved, or the terminally ill and their families. There are two main themes:


1: Objects and images in grief, mourning and remembrance.

This session will explore the use of material objects in contexts of grief, mourning and memory in both contemporary society and the past, from a number of different perspectives: how are tangible objects, mementoes and memorials seen as beneficial aids to the process of mourning? What roles can they play in the different rituals around death? Papers may include examinations of group responses to death, as well as those of individuals and families. Discussions of the ways material objects are presented in the contexts of grief in literature and thought are also welcome.


2: Embodied Emotion: accessing historic grief and mourning through material remains?


This session will ask how far we can gain access to the lived experience of grief and mourning through the material remains of the past. Archaeologists, historians and art historians often seek to understand past societies and cultures through the physical remains they have left behind; yet cultural values and practices around death and mourning can vary widely from one society to another, and issues such as changing rates of mortality can affect the ways in which societies approach death and bereavement. Papers will address the question of how much we can glean about past emotions through the physical monuments which remain, and the representation of such objects in literature or philosophy, as well as the question of agency and responsibility: whose grief is expressed; to what extent is it ‘real’, or the reflection of societal expectations, and which agents are involved in the creation of the tomb and its imagery?


Confirmed Speakers:

Sarah Tarlow, Professor of Archaeology, University of Leicester: ‘Body, Thing, Memory'

Michael Brennan, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Liverpool Hope University. 'Why materiality matters'

Douglas Davies, (Professor of the Study of Religion, Durham): ‘Grave and hopeful emotions’

Lucy Noakes (History, Brighton): Memorials and grief in WWII Britain


Su Chard (independent funerary celebrant) 'When the mantelpiece spoke.'

Dawn Nevin, Director of Counselling and Family Support at Myton Hospices, Warwickshire.

Pam Foley, Sculptor ‘Routes of Sorrow: grieving without finality’


Academics and practitioners across all disciplines are warmly invited to offer papers exploring the research questions outlined above. PhD candidates and Early Career Researchers are particularly welcome. Disciplines may include, but are not limited to: Psychology, Sociology, History, Medical Education, Philosophy, Bereavement Counselling, Religious studies, History of Art and Architecture, Classics and Ancient History, Literary studies, Politics and Public policy. Please send a title and brief abstract (up to 200 words) by 29th February 2016.