Huge changes have occurred in both the physical facts of death and in the cultural modes that guide our reactions to it. These changes also affect policy issues ranging from punishments for crimes to birth control to the conduct of war. This book explores the impacts of these changes upon both personal experience and social policy and places developments in the United States in an international comparative context.The book opens with an overview of traditional patterns of death and related cultural practices in agricultural civilizations, along with changes brought by Christianity. Attitudes and practices in colonial America are traced and compared to other societies. After setting this historical context, the book examines the immense changes that occurred in the nineteenth century: new cultural reactions to death, expressed in changing death rituals and cemetery design; the unprecedented reduction later in the century of infant mortality; the relocation of death from home to hospital; the redefinition of death as a taboo subject. The book's final segment relates changes in death culture and experience to the contentious debates of the twentieth century over the death penalty, abortion, and the practice of war. The book is designed to use historical and comparative perspectives to stimulate debate about the strengths and weaknesses of cultural practices and policies related to death.
Peter N. Stearns is Provost and Professor of History at George Mason University. He has taught previously at Harvard, the University of Chicago, Rutgers, and Carnegie Mellon; he was trained at Harvard University. He has published widely both in world history and modern social history, including the history of emotions. Representative works in world history include World History: A Survey, The Industrial Revolution in World History, Gender in World History, Consumerism in World History, and Growing Up: The History of Childhood in Global Context. His publications in social history include Old Age in Preindustrial Society, Anger: The Struggle for Emotional Control in America's History (with Carol Stearns), Jealousy: The Evolution of an Emotion in American History, American Cool: Developing the Twentieth-Century Emotional Style, Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in Western Society, The Battleground of Desire: The Struggle for Self-Control in Modern America, and American Fear: The Causes and Consequences of High Anxiety. He has also edited encyclopedias of world and social history, and since 1967 has served as Editor in Chief of the Journal of Social History. He is deeply interested in using history to illuminate contemporary issues and politics.
“Peter N. Stearns, one of our nation’s most gifted historians, offers us in Revolutions in Sorrow a profound essay on the history of death. Going beyond trends in the United States, Stearns explores experiences and practices in a global context. Going beyond individual-level data, Revolutions in Sorrow touches on the collective histories of abortion, capital punishment, and war. As he has done so often in the past, Stearns invites us to consider a major topic in social history in fresh ways.”
—W. Andrew Achenbaum, Professor of History and Social Work, University of Houston, and author of Older Americans, Vital Communities: A Bold Vision for Societal Aging
“A welcome addition to death literature. Recommended.”