Death, Modernity, and the Body

December 2009
50 black and white illustrations
232 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in Medical History
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MED039000, SOC036000, HIS044000

Death, Modernity, and the Body

Sweden 1870-1940

Eva Åhrén

A provocative study that explores medical, social, cultural, and aesthetic customs and practices of treating the dead body in Sweden in an era of modernization.
Originally published in Swedish in 2002, Death, Modernity, and the Body explores the impact of modernization on customs and practices of treating the dead body in Sweden in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when intense social and cultural change transformed the country from an agricultural society to a modern industrial state. The book focuses on five arenas: medical research and education, displays of the dead body for entertainment purposes, funerary preparations of the body, memorial photography, and cremation.
Åhrén takes an original approach to the history of death in modern society by focusing on the dead body in intersecting cultural domains. Medical, scientific and technological history are thereby connected to popular culture, social and political history, as well as ethnography and anthropology. The scholarly literature on the history of death is disproportionately focused on the Anglophone world, France, and Germany; this study contributes to the scholarship by examining the case of Sweden, where modernization was exceptionally rapid and pervasive, and full of interesting particularities.

Eva Åhrén is a Research Fellow and Assistant Professor in the Department for the History of Science and Ideas at Uppsala University, Sweden, and a Research Associate at Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Table of Contents

The Modernization of Death
On the Usefulness of the Dead
Death on Display
Preparing the Dead Body
Picturing the Dead
Purifying Flames
Abjection and Modern Rituals


Adds attention-grabbing and pertinent materials, gathered from Swedish archives, to the growing body of critical works on death in the Western world. AMERICAN HISTORY REVIEW

Provides an invaluable source of knowledge about attitudes toward the dead during modernisation. One by one, the chapters offer important insights in customs and thoughts and show how modernity profoundly changed the ways we deal with the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns. SOCIAL HISTORY OF MEDICINE

An imaginative and sophisticated study of death practices around the turn of the twentieth century. Focusing on the handling of the cadaver through such cultural practices as dissection, display, photography, and cremation, Eva Åhrén has given us a richly textured exploration of how the living made meaning through the management of the dead. This is a fascinating contribution to medical history, the history of the body, and the wider history of death in modern Western societies. --John Harley Warner, Avalon Professor and Chair, History of Medicine, Department of History, Yale University

Eva Åhrén's book contributes significantly to our knowledge of the modern history of death. The focus on Sweden adds an important case with some distinctive features, and the emphasis on the treatment and uses of the dead body generates fascinating conclusions. Well-researched and written, the book maintains a commendably high level of analysis. --Peter N. Stearns, Provost, George Mason University

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