Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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Conference Trip: Death & Culture IV, York, UK

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)
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PhD Fieldwork 3: Surveying Field Stones at St. Augustine’s Cemetery 1

This week we wrapped up my fieldwork surveying in New Perlican! This part of my project, which I’ve written about a few times already in earlier blog posts, involves using a total station theodolite to survey and record the location of gravestones at historic burial grounds in New Perlican in order to create maps of the sites for the local archives and to use in my dissertation research on the evolution of the burial spaces in a single community over 400 years. You can find those earlier posts here: PhD Fieldwork Part 1, PhD Fieldwork 2, and Burial Ground Mapping.

This last round of surveying (before all the total stations vanished to field schools and Labrador for the summer) took place at St. Augustine’s Cemetery 1, and yes, there is a second one of the same name! Due to the size and complexity (ie: trees) of the site, I decided to record only the field stones at this location. Often overlooked, field stones are locally sourced grave markers that typically don’t have inscriptions but show a lot of importance in burial marking traditions in a community.

The goats (and sheep) of New Perlican visiting us on site (2022)
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Why Cemeteries are Worth Visiting: An Essay

Hello readers, its been a minute! Since I last wrote a blog post, I have finished and passed my comprehensive exams, searched for and moved into a new apartment with my husband and our cats, and have spent the last 6 weeks working on my thesis proposal, writing my manuscript, and doing a bunch of other bits including a quick trip out to New Perlican for a little field visit.

Today, I wanted to talk about why cemeteries (and burial grounds, and graveyards) are worth visiting, in my opinion as a person who has always been fascinated with them as historic sites, and as an archaeologist who has focused the majority of my research career on death and burial as a part of human existence. I was inspired to write this post after attending a talk yesterday by my friend and colleague Lee Sulkowska, a PhD Candidate in history at Deakin University in Australia, whose research explores how cemeteries are a mirror of the society that created them through fascinating archival case studies. Her talk was in support of Ukraine (tickets were donated to humanitarian aid) through the Instytut Dobrej Śmierci, or the Institute of the Good Death in Poland. After the talk, author Loren Rhodes was telling us about her upcoming book, “Death’s Garden Revisited: Personal Relationships with Cemeteries” and it had me thinking about what stands out about burial spaces to me, both as a person and a researcher. This post is more of a personal essay than a research post, but I wanted to share it all the same.

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The Comprehensive Exams of a PhD Student during a Global Pandemic

Subtitle: “Doing a PhD during the pandemic is pretty weird sometimes

Hello readers, happy 2022! It’s been quiet over here on Spade & the Grave as I took about a month off from looking at my laptop, after spending the entire fall working on my comprehensive exams. As I was tweeting or talking about my comps to various group chats and platforms, many people asked me what the process is, so I thought I’d write about that today!

St. Mark’s Cemetery, New Perlican (Lacy 2021)

In most universities in North America, our PhD programs involve taking courses and comprehensive exams of some form before being considered a ‘candidate’ and being able to move forward with our program, and are 4-years minimum. This differs significantly from programs in Europe and Australia (and probably other places, I’m not sure) where the typical PhD program is 3-years, with an additional 4th for writing sometimes.

My program so far has looked like this:

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PhD Fieldwork 2: Graveyard Tours & NLAS talks

Back for another research blog instalment! The past few weeks have been pretty busy, with Black Cat projects, some comps reading, a camping trip and hiking in Gros Morne, getting my 2nd covid vaccine, and my parents coming out to visit. We still managed to sneak in a little community archaeology engagement though, which turned out to be sort of a conjuncture between the NLAS (Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeology Society) ((I’m the VP this year)) and my own research in New Perlican.

The town of New Perlican was holding their annual Heritage Day this past Saturday, and the NLAS went down with our museum in a box / ‘edukit’ to talk to anyone interested about archaeology in the province. I was also asked to give a short tour and talk about the Bloody Point burial site, which is part of my PhD research! Check HERE and HERE if you need to get caught up on the site! It was an amazing day, and I’m excited to share it with you all!

Looking towards New Perlican from the road to Bloody Point (photo by author 2021)
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PhD in a Pandemic: The First Few Months

It’s a strange time to be reading about death, I’ll just start with that thought.

When I planned my PhD project, in the spring/summer of 2019, covid-19 wasn’t on our radar and I was happily planning our move back to Newfoundland for the later summer of 2020. After the January 2020 SHA conference in Boston, where there were undoubtedly some people with covid in the city at that point, things began to go downhill. Among other things (replanning our wedding, for one), we had to examine when or if moving was going to happen. How do you start a PhD online, in a different province? How do you focus? And how, I wondered, do I read about death in the news and in my research everyday? How do you talk about your research while people are suffering loss around you?

It’s harder to focus, that’s for sure. It’s harder to keep up with those emails from students and profs, class demands, blog contacts (please don’t stop them, just bare with me re response times!), the dishes and vacuuming, settling that anxiety creeping in, reading for fun, etc. Everything feels like a lot, for everyone, and slowing ourselves down is definitely not a bad thing during this time. I’ve seen loads online about people bragging about being so productive in lockdown, but please don’t listen to them. My book was published in 2020, and that’s not a productivity brag, just the publishing timeline (I didn’t work on it much beyond approving proofs in 2020). Working on research soothes me a little, keeps my restless hands doing something via typing since knitting too long aggravates my fieldwork-injured trigger finger/claw fingers now (archaeology, right?).

I write about death, and people are dying of more than just a scary new virus everyday. In 1628, Sir. George Calvert wrote a letter about half of the settlers at Ferryland being struck down by an unnamed illness. The colony must have been terrified, and those who were not sick had to shoulder extra work while also taking care of the sick. I talk about death and burial, as a universally experienced part of life, but our generation has never experienced anything like this. We are building the tools to survive through a pandemic, and hearing about what happened in historic situations helps a little, I think. A world-changing pandemic is certainly not how I thought I’d start my PhD program, and it’s come with learning a lot of new ways to relax and step away from stressors, academic and world alike.

I’m excited to get into 2021 and hopefully it will become more uneventful as we go. I’m looking forward to fieldwork, prepping for comps, working more on my second book, and hopefully seeing friends and family again soon! Do what you need to get through. As Dr. Fitzpatrick said in the covid briefing last night, Hold Fast, Newfoundland & Labrador.