Inhume, Entomb, Inurn, Immure: Cemeteries and Constructions of Britishness, 1767-1852
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
This dissertation examines the emergence of commercial cemeteries in late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century Britain, arguing that these spaces of the dead were a key site for the rehearsal of a middle class, British identity. Unlike earlier scholars, who tended to approach the nineteenth century as something like a golden age of burial, hoping to remind the reader of the sacrifices we have made to become thoroughly modern, I have instead attempted to use the cemetery as a way of engaging a series of current issues in the field of nineteenth century studies. Seeking to provide a transcultural, interdisciplinary framing of the early commercial cemetery, I have approached these sites as both empirical and imaginative spaces, presenting them not only as sites, but as idealizing representations of just what it meant to be middle class in Late-Georgian and early-Victorian Britain. To accomplish this, I have analyzed the commercial cemetery, first, in relation to two specific bodies of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century literature: urban and public health histories and garden and landscape design treatises. For as much as public health debates may reveal about the anxieties that plagued nineteenth-century Britons - undoubtedly an important part of this story - they ultimately tell us very little about the cemetery's form. As my work demonstrates, the entrepreneurs and promoters behind these new commercial ventures used the language and theoretical underpinnings of the eighteenth century English landscape garden to promote the new burial grounds, surprisingly, as a populist project. Yet the story of burial reform cannot be told without considering Britain's, and Britons', relationship to the country's colonial investment in South Asia. Indeed, one of the central arguments of my dissertation is that imperial examples were central to the development of the cemetery as an integrated aspect of "English" national culture.