Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Cadaverous City: The everyday life of the dead in Mexico City, 1875–1930
by Lopez, Amanda M., Ph.D., The University of Arizona, 2010, 201; 3402932
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores burial practices and funeral rituals in Mexico City during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. I argue that international shifts in ideas about public health, class, and nationalism were reflected in new spaces and practices for dead bodies. Furthermore, I examine how mass death challenged traditional burial practices. The daily practices involved in managing the disposal and veneration of dead bodies illuminate the social and cultural challenges in building modern cities and the ways in which these projects are adopted or rejected by the citizenry.

The first three chapters focus on the modernization of burial practices in the nineteenth century. Burial reform laws in the 1850s led to the foundation of the capital's first large, modern cemetery, the Panteón de Dolores, by the Liberal government in 1879. The cemetery became a microcosm for the clean, modern city, mapping the new social class configuration through the distribution of its graves. Quickly the administrators of the Dolores Cemetery failed to meet ideal due to the realities of daily operation. The cemetery had been imagined as a space that reflected elite ideas of modernity, but it served a capital that was mostly indigent. In response to overcrowding, the technology of cremation, which targeted the poor, created a class division between those who could be buried and those who had to be cremated. Government officials successfully constructed a modern, sterile approach to death and began to wrest away control of the symbolic power of death from the Catholic Church.

The last two chapters focus on the temporary breakdown of these practices and the reinterpretation of funeral rituals in the early twentieth century. Instability and high mortality rates during the Revolution of 1910-1920 led to overcrowding in cemeteries and spread the dead beyond the cemetery, including impromptu battlefield cremations. A comparison of three funerals in 1928-1929 shows new ways in which the funeral was used to perform ideas about the nation, family, and masculinity. The Revolution's unmanageable casualty levels and the advent modern, secular funerary practices in the period before the Revolution influenced how the government, military, and civilians handled and memorialized death.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Beezley, William H.
Commitee: Barickman, Bert J., Few, Martha, Gosner, Kevin
School: The University of Arizona
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: DAI-A 71/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Latin American history, Latin American Studies
Keywords: Cemeteries, Death, Liberalism, Mexico, Modernity, Public health
Publication Number: 3402932
ISBN: 9781109756203