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Steven Hoelscher, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Susan Quesal

Doctoral Student



M.A. American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
B.A. English/Spanish, University of Iowa

Thesis title: "Telling a Different Geographic Story: Garreting, License, and the Making of Chicago's Ida B. Wells Homes"


black studies, affect theory, home and housing, urban geography, race/class performativity

AMS 311S • Life And Death In American Cul

29970 • Fall 2015
Meets MWF 1100am-1200pm BUR 436A
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American attitudes about life and death have changed over the past two centuries, as a consequence of changing ideas about the body, health, and medical authority. From early surgeons and midwives to serial killers and funeral directors, this course explores the cultural history of the twin sciences of life and death in the U.S. By looking at the historical overlap and difference between medicine and funeral science, students will understand how social structures of race and class have informed and produced the seemingly natural practices of life and death in America. Our readings will draw from a variety of disciplines, including black studies, urban studies, cultural geography, and public health. We will consider questions such as: How did the science of medicine benefit from white supremacist social structures in the 19th and 20th centuries? What cultural role(s) have funeral directors and other handlers of the dead played over time? What can the geography and location of a cemetery or hospital tell us about the social value of certain spaces and bodies?

            The course will begin with an exploration of the foundations of both medicine and mortuary science, with particular attention to the role of death, race, and poverty in the development of medicine. Next, we will look at the geography of medicine and death—where cities locate their hospitals, doctors, and burial grounds—and think about what that has to tell us about the cultural meaning of death and sickness over time. Finally, we will consider the role of social justice and environmentalism in contemporary movements that work to change public health and burial practices. Students will be asked to produce a series of reading response essays, a take-home midterm essay exam, and a longer research paper that offers an analysis of Austin’s geographies of life and/or death.

Possible Texts

Erik Larson, Devil in the White City

Keith Wailoo, Dying in the City of the Blues: Sickle Cell Anemia and the Politics of Race and Health

Mark Harris, Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial

Jessica Mitford, The American Way of Death

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


Assignments (include % of grade):

10% Attendance and Participation

20% Two reading response essays (10% each)

20% Take-Home Midterm essay

10% Life/Death Geography of Austin assignment

10% Annotated Bibliography

30% Final Research Essay (10% Draft; 20% Final)

AMS S310 • Intro To American Studies

80920 • Summer 2015
Meets MTWTHF 100pm-230pm BUR 220
(also listed as HIS S315G )
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