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The University of Southampton

HIST1084 Cities of the Dead: Death, Mourning and Remembrance in Victorian Britain

Module Overview

One of the characteristics we associate with the Victorians is a fascination for death and a morbid fascination with mourning. Our image of both the Empress and the age as swathed in mourning black seems to jar with the equally popular perception of Victorians as forward-looking technophiles. A closer look at the history of nineteenth-century British cemeteries and the Victorian celebration of death suggests that this was less of a paradox than at first appears. The closure of overcrowded city-centre burial grounds, the planning of new ‘garden cemeteries’ and the marketing of ephemera associated with mourning confronted contemporaries with some of the most challenging questions of the Victorian age. Could the market be expected to provide solutions to social problems, or were there areas where the state alone could be trusted? Should the traditional privileges of the Established (Anglican) Church be maintained to detriment of non-Anglican Christians and non-Christians? How could new scientific discoveries be harnessed to make cities healthier places to live for rich and poor alike? Cemetery planning preoccupied many of the leading architects of the day. The sublime monumental complexes they constructed survive today, above all in London, which this module will take as its main focus. The module will also consider the rise of cremation and changes in attitudes towards cemeteries and mourning in the years around 1900. For all their energy and inventiveness the Victorians failed to achieve the ideal urban environment in which to live. It was in constructing cities for the dead that they came closest to realizing their dream of accessible, planned, sanitary and uplifting public space.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Victorian attitudes towards death, bereavement and mourning
  • The history of nineteenth-century architecture and designed landscapes
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Work independently and unsupervised for extended periods of time on complex tasks
  • Display effective time management
  • Interact purposefully, productively and confidently with both your tutor and peers
  • Make valuable, critical and valued contributions to discussions and debates
  • Write speedily yet fluently for extended periods, clearly articulating your ideas
  • Address sensitive material in a mature and thoughtful fashion, paying due respect to important rituals of mourning while analyzing their historical development
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Gather, assimilate, synthesise and interpret a wide range of primary and secondary material, including visual sources, landscape architecture/build environment and material culture
  • Comment upon complex debates, citing relevant evidence in support
  • Demonstrate significant depth of knowledge and insight
  • Draw upon your acquired knowledge in debate, essays and under timed conditions
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Reflect on contemporary attitudes towards death, bereavement and mourning, and assess how they have evolved since the nineteenth century
  • Consider the extent to which emotional responses to unavoidable life events (such as death) may be considered as universal/unchanging, and/or reflect ethnic and socio-cultural difference


Lectures will outline the demographic problem of cemetery overcrowding, provide a narrative of the various solutions proposed, and familiarise you with the most important cemeteries and the ways in which men and women of different classes mourned. The expeditions to Southampton Cemetery will allow you to see for yourself how individual elements (monuments, walks, planting, walls) were organized as a carefully landscaped environment. Seminars will expose you to readings taken from contemporary politicians, sanitary experts, undertakers, journalists, novelists and other contemporary sources. The handling session will expose you to original examples of mourning jewellery and other mourning-related ephemera. The label writing exercise will challenge you to reflect on these objects as historical sources, and share your knowledge in a succinct and engaging fashion. The role play and other group work will encourage you to draw your own conclusions from these sources and assess their value to us as historians, as well as to show you would tackle the challenges of designing a commercially-operated cemetery for a community as diverse as Victorian Britain. Oral presentations will allow you to share these conclusions with the class as a whole, to hone your presentation skills, and then to revisit your findings in view of the comments offered by your fellow students. The written assignments and examination will test, under pressure of time, the knowledge and skills you have developed. Prior informal assessments will enable you to prepare for these and help ensure that you do your best.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • lectures. • seminars (including group work). Learning activities include • participating in small group and plenary discussion and debate. • close analysis of primary source documents and the material culture of Victorian mourning. • museum label exercise, in which you will write a label for an item of mourning jewellery. • role-play exercise in which you will design your own garden cemetery. • independent reading and research for seminars and essays. • listening and note-taking during lectures.

Preparation for scheduled sessions126
External visits2
Total study time147

Resources & Reading list

Liza Picard (2005). Victorian London: the life of a city, 1840-1870. 

Colin Matthew, ed (2000). The Nineteenth Century Short Oxford History of the British Isles. 

Pat Jalland (1999). Death and the Victorian Family. 

Conlin, Jonathan (2013). Tales of Two Cities: Paris, London and the Making of the Modern City. 

Peter C. Jupp and Glennys Howarth (eds.) (1992). The Changing Face of Death: Historical Accounts of Death and Disposal. 

Julian Litten (1992). The English Way of Death: the Common Funeral since 1450. 

Philippe Ariès (1972). Western Attitudes to Death from the Middle Age to the Present. 

James Stevens Curl (2004). The Victorian Celebration of Death. 

Howard Colvin (1991). Architecture and the Afterlife. 

Ruth Richardson (1987). Death, Dissection and the Destitute. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 40%
Examination  (1 hours) 40%
Exercise  (200 words) 20%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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