"If you are walking in Charleston, you are walking on someone's grave."--Sue Bennett, Charleston tour guide

Monday, May 9, 2016

"Beyond the Grave" Course "Eulogy"

Wow, where did the school year go?

Teaching my first-time First Year Experience class at the College of Charleston has been educational and eventful for me as well as the students, I hope.

The course I designed is called "Beyond the Grave: What Old Cemeteries Tell and Teach the Living." I drew upon my experiences writing two books about Charleston's venerable Victorian necropolis Magnolia Cemetery to craft a multi-disciplinary curriculum.

The "Holy City" of Charleston with its many churches and adjacent graveyards (many within walking distance of campus) was an ideal place to study death and all it involves from numerous perspectives: history, religion, sociology, psychology, anthropology, art, art history, medicine and more.

(Above: My Spring 2016 students at Magnolia Cemeteries iconic Gibbes Mausoleum. Left: My Fall 2015 class at the Parker exedra monument, also at Magnolia Cemetery).

I am excited to again be going "Beyond the Grave" with CofC freshmen next school year.

The final question I put on my final exams is to ask the students what they learned in this class that asks"what old cemeteries tell and teach the living." Here are some of their responses (names withheld).

Student explore St. Patrick's church graveyard
"The idea of death and what we do with our dead is common knowledge, but this class made me investigate further...This class made me appreciate the centuries-old traditions and understand why they are still in use today."

"Graves and cemeteries teach the living so many things but overall it's the history of life that can be expressed through the art of graves."

"Life and death are very complex, convoluted and confusing topics to cover, but the sheer gist of it is the realization that we seemingly only have one chance at being remembered whether it be on a headstone or a heart."

Fun can be had even at cemeteries! 
"The research I was doing on 'the dead' taught me information about my family's origins and influence on the Newberry (S.C.) community. This class taught me that in Charleston it is possible to look at a grave and be able to find a plethora of historical information. Learning about the past also showed me living conditions and medical practices, which was imperative to understanding why death was treated the way it was throughout history. I also got to experience Magnolia Cemetery which was beautiful."

"I learned to blog all my explorations!"

"Gravesites show people in the present how people in the past grieved their lost loved ones. We can learn who the people were by the epitaph left behind for their legacy...Also that ghosts are probably real!"

Tour of Charleston's Old City Jail 
"We don't treat death today as we did in the past. During the Victorian Era, death was almost trendy. Families put work and energy into designing and maintaining their family members' graves. We do not see this today. Today, grave sites are not physically eye catching and family members don't maintain the deceased's grave sites. We could learn to respect the dead and become more comfortable with death and dying from the old grave sites and practices."

"Maybe the students who have taken this course can walk away with this lesson:  Death doesn't have to be avoided. Instead, cherish the remembrance of your loved one by carrying on the 'old' tradition. Visit your loved ones after they pass and use it as a sacred time to bring the living together."

More on my course "Beyond the Grave: What Old Cemeteries Tell and Teach the Living" can be found on the class blog