In this four-part seminar, learn how to decode the stories in gravestones and deepen your understanding of America’s cemeteries.
Have you ever wondered why certain gravestones and funerary monuments look the way they do? In this course, Dr. Elise M. Ciregna will explore how to decipher the stories in these stones, drawing from a foundational knowledge of cemeteries and material culture. Over the course of four sessions, we’ll trace the history of burying grounds, cemeteries, and gravestones in the United States, focusing on a different period of American history each week. We’ll cover Puritan and Colonial practice and African American burying grounds through to the impact of cremation on contemporary American burial practice. In between, we’ll touch upon the advent of the garden cemetery movement, the 19th century romance of cemeteries, the cemetery beautiful movement of the early 20th century, and the 20th century changes in cemetery management—looking at common motifs and stone cutting techniques as we go. By the end of this course, you’ll have the tools to engage with gravestones in a new way, the foundations for doing genealogical research, as well as a new lens through which to understand American society, culture, and values through time.
Syllabus at a Glance
There are four total sessions included in this purchase, each lasting for two hours.
Summer Section D: Meets Saturdays starting September 25
Session 1 (Saturday, 9/25, 3–5 PM ET): The Colonial and Early National Period: Stones and Crossbones
Session 2 (Saturday, 10/2, 3–5 PM ET): The Nineteenth Century: The Rural Cemetery Movement and the Age of Marble
Session 3 (Saturday, 10/9, 3–5 PM ET): Cemeteries as Spaces for Specific Communities
Session 4 (Saturday, 10/16, 3–5 PM ET): The Twentieth Century to the Present + Genealogical Research
Fall Section A: Meets Wednesday starting October 27.
Session 1 (Wednesday, 10/27, 6:30 -8:30 PM ET): The Colonial and Early National Period: Stones and Crossbones
Session 2 (Wednesday, 11/3, 6:30 -8:30 PM ET): The Nineteenth Century The Rural Cemetery Movement and the Age of Marble
Session 3 (Wednesday, 11/10, 6:30 -8:30 PM ET): Cemeteries as Spaces for Specific Communities
Session 4 (Wednesday, 11/17, 6:30 -8:30 PM ET): The Twentieth Century to the Present + Genealogical Research
Fall Section B: Meets Saturdays starting October 30.
Session 1 (Saturday, 10/30, 3:30-5:30 PM ET): The Colonial and Early National Period: Stones and Crossbones
Session 2 (Saturday, 11/6, 3:30-5:30 PM ET): The Nineteenth Century The Rural Cemetery Movement and the Age of Marble
Session 3 (Saturday, 11/13, 3:30-5:30 PM ET): Cemeteries as Spaces for Specific Communities
Session 4 (Saturday, 11/20, 3:30-5:30 PM ET): The Twentieth Century to the Present + Genealogical Research
Fall Section C: Meets Saturdays starting December 11, skipping December 25 and January 1.
Session 1 (Saturday, 12/11, 3-5 PM ET): The Colonial and Early National Period: Stones and Crossbones
Session 2 (Saturday, 12/18, 3-5 PM ET): The Nineteenth Century The Rural Cemetery Movement and the Age of Marble
-two weeks off-
Session 3 (Saturday, 1/8, 3-5 PM ET): Cemeteries as Spaces for Specific Communities
Session 4 (Saturday,1/15, 3-5 PM ET): The Twentieth Century to the Present + Genealogical Research
Outside of class, students will be assigned readings and small projects that should take between one and two hours each week. There will be one reflective, short writing assignment as well as a field assignment.
If you are unable to pay the ticket price for this course, a limited number of no-pay spots are available to increase accessibility for students, regardless of economic situation. Please note that this option is first-come, first-served, and reserved for those who would not otherwise be able to take this course. To learn more about our approach to pricing, including no-pay options, please visit our FAQ page.
Atlas Obscura Online Courses
Our online courses offer opportunities for participants to emerge with new skills, knowledge, connections, and perspectives through multi-session classes designed and taught by expert instructors. Courses can take one of two forms: Seminars are intimate, interactive classes—capped at nine to 25 students—exploring topics and crafts through discussion, workshops, assignments, and in-class activities. We also offer lecture series that can be attended live, or viewed via a recording that will be shared within 72 hours after each session airs. Class recordings for lecture series will be available with a temporary password for up to two weeks following the final session of the course.
To learn more about our current course offerings, please visit www.atlasobscura.com/online-courses.
For answers to commonly asked questions, check out our FAQ page here.
Once registered, you’ll receive a confirmation email from Eventbrite that will provide access to the class meeting. Please save the confirmation email as you’ll use it to access your course via Zoom on each scheduled date and time.
Dr. Elise Madeleine Ciregna is a historian specializing in social, visual, and material culture. She has a master’s degree in the history of art and architecture from Harvard University; her master’s thesis was an exploration of the role of Mount Auburn Cemetery in the development of an American school of neoclassical sculpture. Dr. Ciregna earned her doctorate in history from the University of Delaware; her dissertation is entitled “The Lustrous Stone: White Marble in America, 1780-1860.” Dr. Ciregna has worked as a historic cemetery curator and director; has been editor of a scholarly journal on gravestones and cemeteries; has taught courses at the University of Delaware, the Wentworth Institute, and Harvard Extension School; has lectured at Brown University; and has led workshops at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. She is the former President of the Association for Gravestone Studies, the leading organization in America for cemetery studies. Currently, she is a senior administrator in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University and teaches courses on graduate writing and research, and cultural heritage protection—including, yes, the preservation and protection of cemeteries.
This is an interactive, small-group, seminar-style course that meets over Zoom. Students may be invited to participate in discussions, workshop their projects, and receive feedback from the course instructor.
In most cases, instructors will use Google Classroom to communicate with students outside of class. While students aren’t required to use Classroom, instructors will be using this platform to post resources, discussion questions, and assignments, when applicable.
We provide closed captioning for all of our courses, as well as transcripts upon request. Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, requests, or access needs.
There are 30 spots available on this experience.
Wed, Oct 27, 20216:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m.$265
Sat, Oct 30, 20213:30 p.m.–5:30 p.m.$265
Sat, Dec 11, 20213:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.$265