Revolutions in Sorrow: The American Experience of Death in Global Perspective, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Revolutions in Sorrow

The American Experience of Death in Global Perspective, 1st Edition

By Peter N. Stearns


201 pages

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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, 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.”


About the Author

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.

About the Series

United States in the World

This series focuses on the United States’ interaction with and impact on world societies in key sectors of activity, with an interdisciplinary bent, in the globalizing 21st century. With relatively short books written at the college level and popular for the general public, as well, United States in the World places key topics in US history in international perspective, seeking to address the questions: What special contributions or limitations have resulted from US activities during a period when it has maintained a preeminent power position in world affairs? Has there been an "American flavor," for better or worse, to US efforts? Has there been a gap between apparent US intentions and actual results and reception in various parts of the world? How have international efforts in the sector affected internal developments in the US during the period?

These books do not assume US superiority or unchallenged dominance. They do identify areas where American people, ideas, and institutions have deliberately sought a global role in recent decades, assessing the nature and quality of their results and their interplay with other regional and global actors. Considering appropriate, variable historical focuses, books include a final section on the relevant current situation in the topic area. Historians with an interest in the contemporary period will be crucial contributors, but the series also recruits historically-minded scholars in Communication Studies and the various social sciences, especially Politics and International Studies. College courses from all those areas and beyond will be the natural home for these books.

A variety of topics are explored

Race, Gender, Religion

Human & Civil Rights

Trade & the Global Economy

Migration & Immigration

The Military, Diplomacy, Foreign Policy

Engineering, Technology, Public Health

Energy & the Environment

Media & Social Media

Management & Business


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