Memorial 20/70 is a collaborative project that seeks to investigate shifting practices and patterns of commemoration across a roughly 300-year period from the 1620s to the 1920s. The project examines memorial texts and objects related to deaths during the centennial and semicentennial decades of the 1620s, 1670s, 1720s, 1770s, 1820s, 1870s, and 1920s. These decades will serve as touchstones that can allow us to explore important changes in memorial practices across time and geography. The primary aim of the project is to investigate text-bearing objects that individuals and social groups used to commemorate the dead. This research will also illuminate other areas of inquiry, including illness, religion, childhood, old age, memory, migration and colonization, ideas of identity and heritage, and conceptions of kinship and community.
We intend to include a broad range of memorial objects in our project to enable the study of the relationship between different commemorative forms and practices. We wish in particular to expand beyond gravestones and memorial markers because the use of such forms of memorialization has been highly dependent on social and economic capital. Most gravesites from the 1620s to 1920s remain unmarked, but some of these have been memorialized in records (e.g. asylum or parish records), in letters or journals, or in oral histories that were later recorded. Our project investigates these records as well as text-bearing objects such as funeral cards, mourning jewelry, obituaries, and parish records, in addition to church monuments and gravestones. We aim to be able to compare the ways in which individuals were commemorated in different media, across a range of geographical areas, at distinct points in time during our period of inquiry.
From a digital humanities (DH) perspective, one of our most ambitious goals is to create a system for linguistically, thematically, geographically, and temporally analyzing side-by-side forms of data that are not typically considered alongside one another: photographs of gravestones, obituaries, mourning jewelry, and asylum records, for example.Ultimately, we hope to provide data that will allow for analysis and use by members of the public, as well as scholars and educators across several fields–history, literature, art history, sociology, linguistics.