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Death in Scotland

Chapters From the Twelfth Century to the Twenty-First


Peter C. Jupp and Hilary J. Grainger

For the past twenty years, Scottish death culture has emerged as a focus of scholars drawn from a wide variety of disciplines. Death comes to us all but too often we treat it as a private or personal matter. The former taboo about death is slowly lifting and contemporary research is playing an increasing part. Accordingly, the fifteen essays gathered in this book probe the multi-facetted role of death in Scottish history and culture. They explore personal fears of death, anxieties about Predestination, prayers for the dead and the appeal of Spiritualism. They analyse the public face of death in law, economics and medicine: changes in capital punishment, funeral poverty, the teaching of anatomy and prevention of stillbirths. Within the worlds of religion and ritual, they consider the making of saints, burial practice following the Scottish Reformation and the tradition of keening within the Gáidhealtachd. With an Introduction by Professor Jane Dawson, these essays by specialists in the field not only highlight the richness of the primary sources for studying death in Scotland but reveal how death studies identify key features of Scottish life and society across ten centuries.

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Introduction (Jane Dawson)


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‘Murder is not the point’, declared Val McDermid, the celebrated Scottish crime writer, when discussing the popularity of her genre arguing that crime writers ‘shift people out of their comfort zones, but not because we kill people’.1 She explained that crime novels outsell other types of fiction because they discuss current issues in a more direct and daring way. The thriller element, with its violence, blood and gore, provides the hook, drawing the reader into considering the multiplicity of things that matter to human beings and demonstrating how we live now or have lived in the past. Like crime fiction, the academic study of death comprehends many facets of life; death is far from being the (only) point.

Comparatively, the history of Scottish death is in its infancy, though recent conferences and publications have introduced more people to the field.2 The companion volume to this collection, Death in Modern Scotland 1855–1955: Beliefs, Attitudes and Practices, rested upon the first in a series of three conferences (2013, 2014 & 2016) on ‘Death in Scotland: beliefs, attitudes and practices’ held at New College, University of Edinburgh.3 Scotland was the subject of the three-year research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust (2008–11) based at the University of Durham that produced Cremation in Modern Scotland: History, Architecture and the Law, ← 1 | 2 → the first full and multi-disciplinary study of Scottish cremation.4 It is complemented by Grainger’s essay below and her...

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