PÈRE-LACHAISE IN 1815 (2018)


Whereas funereal practices in the United States dictate that one’s cemetery plot represents a permanent space of memorial, French cemeteries have continually been sites of ephemerality. This has been especially true since 1804, when the regulatory environment of the cemetery was reformed. A result of these changes was that all citizens were granted access, regardless of class or religion, to temporary or perpetual concessions at a minimum of five years. Subject to the family’s ability or desire to pay for the maintenance of concessions after that time, monuments were subject to high turnover rates. Thus, monuments that visitors encounter today are not representative of those encountered in the nineteenth century. This study reconstructs the image of Père-Lachaise in 1815, accounting for the mundane and ordinary monuments that were removed as a result of these regulations (which are still in effect today). For this project, a database was constructed using Roger’s 1816, Le Champ du repos, which contains the inscriptions and illustrations for over 2000 monuments in Père-Lachaise erected prior to 1816. This dataset examines patterns of commemoration by connecting demographic data to monument design characteristics and the use of eulogistic text. This allows for the study of the cemetery as an aggregate, contrary to that of individual monuments that has previously dominated the field. By analyzing the design and materials of these monuments, which have mostly been lost, one sees how these monuments, conceived of as temporary by state administration, were constructed as permanent memorials for those left behind.

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This research was presented at the 45th Annual MAHS Conference in Indianapolis, IN (April 5th–7th, 2018), where it earned the Graduate Student Distinguished Presentation Award. 


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