Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens

Conference Trip: Death & Culture IV, York, UK

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There is no such thing as a posting schedule when you’re doing your PhD and running a business part time, and writing a book! I do these things to myself, and it’s great! We have just returned from a trip to the UK, where I presented some of my ongoing research at the Death & Culture IV conference, held at the York St. John Campus in the heart of York. York is definitely one of my favourite cities in the UK that I’ve gotten the chance to spend time in, so returning this fall to meet up with friends and talk about research was a huge treat! The rest of the trip was our honeymoon (belated by covid for 2 years, whoops), and I’ll do a separate post about the death-related things we saw on that trip later on! It was a very eventful trip overall, so lets get into it!

The conference, held every 2 years, was put on by the Death & Culture Network (DaCNet) through the University of York, describes itself as promoting “the continuing engagement with the study of death, and acts as a forum for networking and the sharing of multidisciplinary death scholarship”. I presented my ongoing research on the burial grounds of New Perlican, the mapping that has been carried out through our surveys, and what that can tell us about the burial landscape of the community.

View of Old Town, Edinburgh, Scotland (photo by author 2022)

Conference Day 1: After a full day of travelling, a Wagamama break in Edinburgh, a train to York, and a dinner of Indian food at Atithi with all my death studies friends from twitter, it was finally time for the first day of the conference. I planned and pitched a panel with my friends Lee Sulkowska and Lucy Talbot, entitled ‘Public Heritage & Death’, and we were one of the first panels that first morning, after the keynote speaker!

Everyone did so well, and we got some really good questions after our talks! It was great to hear about research in person again. I was also really pleased that the conference organisers had digital presentation options for people who were not able to attend the conference in person. We all learned throughout the pandemic that there is no reason that digital presentation or hybrid attendance of conferences can’t be set up!

My talk, on my research in New Perlican, also included a map of the survey that Ian and I carried out in May of this year. It shows the unmarked field stones that we recorded at the St. Augustine’s #1 Cemetery in the community, of which there were over 200. That was far more than was expected when I started surveying that site, and really shows how pervasive the practice was in the outport community! I also included a slide detailing the time frames of all the burial spaces in New Perlican, and how those spaces moved from closer to the centre of the community to the outskirts, reflecting what we see in the wider North American burial landscape in the 19th and early 20th centuries. That slide is below, and I’ll share the St. Augustine map in a future post! As you can see by the slide below, and what I said in my talk, is that this is a preliminary analysis, and I’m looking forward to having a more in depth look at the movement of burial spaces in New Perlican this fall…as I start my dissertation!

Slide from my presentation, showing the outward movement of burials away from the centre of New Perlican.

The first day of the conference was a rousing success! It was wonderful to be able to connect with everyone that I’ve met through my time on twitter! It has really been such a wonderful way to meet other people in my deathy field, the majority of whom live in the UK or elsewhere overseas! This was an interdisciplinary conference, so hearing about both contemporary and historical death-related research and work was really wonderful, especially after being alone with my research thoughts for the last couple years! We even got treated to a live recording of the Death Studies Podcast!

We all spent the last few hrs of the conference checking our phones every few minutes, as reports of the Queen’s ailing health started pouring in online. The BBC reporters changed their outfits, and we were all waiting to hear if she’d already died earlier that day. On our way to the conference dinner, the report came in; the Queen of England had died. What a surreal time to be in the UK, and at a conference about death studies and their impact on culture, no less!

Me and Lee with the DaCNet sign in the lobby!

The conference dinner was great fun as we all discussed the events of the day, and then a few of us when for drinks at the famous House of the Trembling Madness afterwards, to round out the evening. What a day!

Conference Day 2: Ian and I were staying at the Lighthorseman Inn, with a few other conference-goers, for this trip. While it’s a little walk into the centre of town, I highly recommend this hotel for anyone on a budget who wants a spot with character (and an excellent tap selection!). We walked into town and met Lee at the Bar Hashery Cafe for coffee before another day of conferencing, also a great spot!

There were so many great talks happening on the 2nd day, it was hard to choose who to see! In the morning we heard Dr. Dan O’Brien talk about fictional depictions of funeral mutes and pall bearers in the 18th century, on the main stage. Dan, you need to bring your signs with you next time! By the time the first break rolled around, Lee and I escaped the conference for a few hours to join Ian as tourists. We went for lunch at Lucky Days, walked the city walls, visited the roman baths below the Roman Bath pub, and got coffee inside a medieval gate house!

After our break, it was time for the last session of the day. Janine Marriott told us about public engagement at Arnos Vale Cemetery were she works, and Dr. Helen Frisby discussed her very interesting ongoing research into the scents of an early 20th-century funeral. The latter of those two talks involved props which included herbs that would have been present at the time, wool, spices from funeral biscuits, and a piece of decaying pork to simulate the corpse after a few days in the home. The last example made it down only one row of seats (my row) before the session chair quickly capped the jar and flung the room’s door open for ventilation. I don’t think any of us will forget that talk!

Overall, the Death & Culture IV conference was a wonderful experience, and one that I had been eagerly awaiting throughout covid travel lockdowns! A group of us went for drinks and dinner after the final session on the 2nd day, and then Ian and myself did a little touristing the next day before catching a train back up to Edinburgh! As always, the Minster was glorious in the sunshine, and we had a cheeky Nandos before the train. I am already planning for Death & Culture V in 2024, and cannot wait to reconnect with everyone in person again!

As always, thanks for reading!

Author: Robyn S. Lacy

Archaeologist / Cultural Heritage / Burial Ground Restoration

4 thoughts on “Conference Trip: Death & Culture IV, York, UK

  1. Love reading about your work and look forward to more. I would be glad to hear where to find your peer reviewed work as that happens and any other writing on this topic. Good magic and good fortunes to you!

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    • Thanks so much! In the menu bar at the top of my website I have a page called ‘CV’ which has all the info on my published work. Let me know if you can’t find something you’re interested in!

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  2. Glad you enjoyed the conference in York. I hadn’t heard of it but will certainly look out for it in two years time!

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