Death and Human Remains in Public History, 2.0

I’m back this semester teaching Death and Human Remains in Public History for a second time! The first time I taught it, I wrote about some of the work we did in that class – you can read about that here.

The syllabus is available embedded below, and the full readings list is below that!

I always have people ask for more information about the class, so this year I’ve made the list of readings and topics available here for anyone to follow along!

Readings and Schedule for Spring 2023

Available online at this link.

Readings for Death and Human Remains in Public History 

Book: From Here to Eternity, Caitlin Doughty  

  1. Public History 

What is Public History?  

Today we are focusing on the field of Public History and what it is. You have 2 links to browse, and 2 short chapter PDFs to read before class.  


  1. Death Studies 

All about the field of Death Studies 
This section is incredibly interdisciplinary – as is the field of death studies. We will delve into sociology, psychology, anthropology, history, public history, and many other fields (as we will throughout the class!) 


3. History of Death and Dying 


4. Museums and Historic Places; Acquisition, Conservation, and Display of the Dead and items of Death (war trophies, weapons, material culture) 
Reminder!! This week we have our first Case Studies! Case Study Notes 1 assignment due BEFORE Class on Wednesday 


Wednesday Case Studies:   

  • Charles Byrne, Hunterian Museum   
  • Julia Pastrana, Reburied, Mexico/Traveling   
  • Carol Orzel and Harry Eastlack, Mutter Museum   
  • William Burke and William Hare, Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh   
  • Clonycavan and Old Croghan Man, National Museum Ireland   
  • Grover Krantz, Smithsonian   
  • Ishi, Berkeley/Hearst Museum   
  • Ramses II, Traveled/Grand Egyptian Museum   
  • Robert Kennicott, Smithsonian  
  • Ancient One/Kennewick Man, Reburied, Burke Museum 

5. A history of Humans Remains on Display in Museums and Heritage Sites (from freakshows to NAGPRA and beyond) 
Reminder!! Preliminary Project Proposal Due Sunday  

Readings for Monday:  

  • Katie Clary, Human Remains and Museums, in History News (PDF Below) 

Readings for Wednesday: 

  • (Sorry to be that person assigning their own work to their students, but at least it is free!!)  

6. Death and Museums 

Death and Museums: Displaying (or not?) the Dead and Death Education at Museums and Heritage sites 

  • National Geographic, “This Museum Tries to Make Death Seem Less Frightening” – PDF Below or Link here.  

Tuesday Film: Black Mirror: Black Museum  

  • Complete the worksheet below for the film – if you complete this at home, please email it to me, if you are in class, I will hand it out and collect it there. 

Thursday: Wrap up human remains in museums, talk about programs about death in museums. 

7. Haunted Places 

Haunted Places & People: The Impact of the Living on the Spaces of the Dead (historic preservation, destruction of historic places, pros/cons) 


Case Studies!  
Ghosts and Place: How do these places use their ghost stories for programs, education, tourism, other ways? Do they seem to embrace it? Hide from it? Allow Ghost Hunting shows? etc. Who are their supposed ghosts? What evidence is there for them?  
1. Tower of London, UK 
2. Gettysburg, PA   
3. Davenport House Museum, Savannah, GA  
4. The Witch House, Salem, MA  
5. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia  
6. Stanley Hotel, Colorado  
7. Winchester Mystery House, California  
8. Whaley House, San Diego  
9. Myrtles Plantation, Louisiana  

8. Dark Tourism 

Dark Tourism: Serial Killers, Mass Murder, and Disaster History and the Public 


9. Public and Dark Tourism 

Dark Tourism and Public Engagement:Asylums, Plantations, Hospitals, and Sites of Mass Death as Tourist Destinations(balancing historical interpretation and sensitivity to the dead) 

LISTEN (34 minutes) –  

Case Study Group Presentations 3 
Dark Tourism Case Studies: What is the dark history here? What types of tours or programs are available? Why do you think people want to go here? What is the appeal? Would you visit? What do you think of this place as a tourist attraction? What are some struggles the site has had because of dark tourism? Benefits?  
1. Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, West Virginia 
2. Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia 
3. Alcatraz East – Museum, Pigeon Forge, TN 
4. Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Louisville 
5. Paris Catacombs 
6. Killing Fields, Cambodia 
7. Pompeii, Italy 
8. Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin 
9. East End of London – Jack the Ripper 
10. Lizzie Borden House, Massachusetts

10. Public Consumption of Death and Human Remains in Popular Culture:M ummies, Zombies, and what they say about the living 

  • Flirting with the Dark Side – PDF Below 
  • The Tragic, Forgotten History of Zombies 
  • Desecration and romanticisation – the real curse of mummies 

11. Death and Religious Spaces: Churches, Cemeteries, and Relics 

  • Doughty, Caitlin, From Here to Eternity: “Mexico: Michoacan” 
  • When is it okay to dig up the dead? PDF Below 

Thursday: Group Case Studies 

DO NOT other these groups – remember to be respectful in your analysis and not fall into the Dark Tourist trap!  

What is the religion associated with your case study? What are the beliefs surrounding the use of human remains and/or death? How are they used? Where did the remains come from? What do you think the dead would think about their role in the religious practices?  

  • Capuchin Monastery in Italy   
  • Kunta Hora Bone Church in Czech Republic   
  • Oliver Plunkett in Drogheda, Ireland and Saint Valentine’s Skull in Rome  
  • Palo Mayombe, Afro-Cuban Rituals  
  • Huron-Wendat Feast of the Dead (be especially careful about analyzing sources for bias!) 
  • Tibetan Buddhist Sky Burials – kapala (skullcap) kept back  
  • Buddhist Corpse Meditation  

12. Archives, Tech, and Death 


  • Doughty, From Here to Eternity, “Japan”  
  • Microsoft patented a chatbot that would let you talk to dead people.  
  • The Jessica Simulation:Love and loss in the age of A.I. 
  • The digital afterlife industry is here to help you plan your death 
  • How a Dead University Professor is teaching his Art History class 

Film: Black Mirror: Be Right Back 

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