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Jail for the Dead: How New York City Buries the Unclaimed

General Programming

dateSeptember 25, 2019 timeWednesday, 5:00pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • Free and open to the public
  • No registration necessary
  • First come, first seated

What is death? And what comes after? The end of life. The end of this life. Heaven. Nothingness. Ghosts, real and imagined. Such questions, and answers, have often been understood as quintessentially religious and quintessentially philosophical. They are also social, cultural, and political. Academic and affective.

In this year-long series, IRCPL will feature a range of events and speakers, including leading scholars in history and anthropology, as well as film makers, artists, journalists, and social activists. The purpose of the series is to explore a range of topics and issues, from the history of burial and mourning practices to contemporary debates over cryogenics, the political dimensions of urban violence, and the role that music can play in the process of grieving. We will stage lectures, screen films, and feature artists in conversation and in performance. The series will conclude with a “death café” in late April, and showcasing of the year’s events in the on-line review, Public Books.


Thomas W. Laqueur is the Helen Fawcett Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation, and Religion and Respectability: Sunday Schools and Working Class Culture, 1780–1850. He is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books.

Melinda Hunt is an interdisciplinary artist whose works include video, photography, installation, and public art. She received a M.F.A. in Sculpture (1985) from the Yale School of Art and a M.Sc. in Digital Imaging & Design (2007) from New York University. She founded the Hart Island Project in 1991. She published a book, Hart Island (1998) in collaboration with photographer Joel Sternfeld. She has received awards from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts (1987), New York State Council on the Arts (1995, 2000, 2011) and Cana- da Council for the Arts (2008, 2009).

Sponsors: Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life; Department of History; Institute for Comparative Literature and Society; The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities; Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy

This event will be photographed and filmed. By being present, you consent to the SOF/Heyman using such photographs and video for promotional purposes.