Contributors to The Death Conference

Biography: Sibylle Erle (BGU)

Sibylle Erle, FRSA, is Reader in English Literature at BGU, author of Blake, Lavater and Physiognomy (Legenda, 2010), co-editor of Science, Technology and the Senses (RaVoN, 2008) and volume editor of Panoramas, 1787-1900: Texts and Contexts (5 vols., Pickering & Chatto, 2012). She is co-editing The Reception of William Blake in Europe (Bloomsbury, 2018), has co-curated “Blake and Physiognomy” (2010-11) at Tate Britain and devised an online exhibition of Tennyson’s copy of Blake’s Job for the Tennyson Research Centre (2013). Apart from reception, she is working on ‘character’ in the Romantic period and co-organising the Monster Conference (BGU, 2018).

Lecture: “‘How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe … ?’: Frankenstein, Walton and the Monster”

This lecture revisits the question of monstrosity in Frankenstein and Mary Shelley’s representation of creation. In the 1818 edition there is almost no explanation of the animation of the corpse; it came much later and through Shelley’s preface to the third edition, written in 1831, as well as the stage adaptations of the 1820s. The focus of this lecture is on Frankenstein’s body-making but also his aesthetic response to the patched-up body which combines human with animal parts. Frankenstein tells Walton, the Artic explorer he meets near the North Pole, how he was overwhelmed by what he saw. He could not bear it. The lecture will explain how Shelley engages with ‘the pursuit of sympathy’ and society’s failure to identify with the ‘monstrous’ other.

Shelley, it has been argued, revised Adam Smith’s ideas about sympathy, suggesting that – if a person inspires terror compensatory sympathy can be achieved through narrative. Frankenstein is, of course, an unreliable narrator and Walton only gradually distances himself from the tale he has heard. Walton, after all, decides not only to listen (against Frankenstein’s advice) but also to not look at the monster; he is only one able to handle it.  The lecture contextualises the dynamic between the visual and the verbal in order to argue that the representation of creation was influenced by Shelley’s response to Johann Caspar Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy (1789-98).

Biography: Martin Huggon (BGU)

Martin Huggon is an Associate Tutor in Archaeology and Heritage at BGU, and has recently submitted his thesis at the University of Sheffield on The Archaeology of Medieval Hospitals in England and Wales, 1066-1546. He is the editor of Church Archaeology, the journal of the Society for Church Archaeology, and has contributed chapters on medieval hospitals, health, and medicine to The Oxford Handbook of Later Medieval Archaeology (Oxford University Press, 2018) and The Buildings of Medieval Europe: studies in social and landscape contexts (Oxbow, 2018). Alongside his work on the archaeology of medieval hospitals he is also starting work on examining the medieval Military Orders in the British Isles and Ireland, as well as writing up the results of recent excavations at Thornton Abbey, where a Black Death cemetery, a medieval hospital, and further buildings from the monastic and post-Dissolution period were discovered, with project directors Dr Hugh Willmott (University of Sheffield) and Dr Pete Townend.

Lecture: “The medieval hospital as medicine for a good life or a good death”

This lecture will explore the manner in which faith, charity, lifestyle, and medical theory combined at the institution of the medieval hospital. This melding of secular and religious themes was intended to create a healing environment, one in which the residents could carry out a good life of quasi-monastic routine, prayer, and contemplation, or one where the body and soul was prepared for a good death, one of absolution and purity. The buildings, artefacts, and diet will be considered, as will the excavations of cemeteries and the evidence these may have produced about the people who lived in these institutions of religious and physical healing.

Fundamentally, the separation of religious and physical healing that has often dominated scholarly discussion will be questioned, and a more holistic approach advocated. This also ties in to the motivations of the benefactors and founders of the medieval hospitals, who themselves were looking to achieve a good life or a good death by their support of such institutions. At its conclusion, this lecture will aim to contextualise the manner in which medieval society viewed the most vulnerable, acting at the same time as inspirations of suffering and poverty, but also groups to be feared unless bound inside the holy precinct of the hospital.

Biography: Lisa Gibson (St Barnabas Lincolnshire Hospice, Community Development Officer)

Lisa Gibson is Community Development Officer with St Barnabas Hospice in Lincolnshire. She holds a Batchelor of Arts in Youth and Community Work with Applied Theology, awarded by Oxford Brookes University. Lisa’s is passionate about the rediscovery of community and the impact that this would have on those living with and dying from terminal illness. Lisa has led a number of projects that support creative responses to death including Lincolnshire’ first death café’s; The Good Goodbye, a conversation starter app which facilitates difficult conversations; and Talk to Us, a nationally recognised model for understanding the end of life experiences of patients and bereaved carers. Lisa lives in Lincolnshire with her husband and family.

Lecture: “Hospice Care: Because you matter”

 “You matter because you are you, and you matter until the last moment of your life. And we will do everything we can to help you, not only to die peacefully, but to live until you die.” Dame Cicely Saunders

50 years ago Dame Cicely Saunders began to shape what has become the modern hospice movement, offering a kinder, gentler experience of living with and dying from a terminal illness.

Against a back drop of increasing medicalisation of death hospices have sought to care holistically for patients and those around them. The hospice movement cannot however be considered a bystanders in this process as they too have played a role in the medicalisation of palliative and end of life care. Death and dying have been removed from our social experience to the extent that they regarded with fear and a sense of otherness.

Colin Douglas (1992), in his article, “For all the saints”, raised the suggestions that “the hospice movement is too good to be true and too small to be useful.” With just 6% of all deaths in England in 2016 occurring within a hospice there is a growing sense of inequality. An ageing population with exponentially increasing incidence of long term conditions, co-morbidities and frailty present the hospice movement with a big challenge. Perhaps it’s time to wrench death from the hands of the medical world and put it back into the hands of our communities, where it belongs. The question for the hospice movement is whether it can return to its roots without compromising the benefits of all that has been learned over the past 50 years.

Biography: Frances Glover (Co-founder of A Natural Undertaking – Funerals Celebrating Life)

Fran wasn’t born into undertaking like many funeral directors these days. Her background in sales and marketing is as far from the world of death as you can imagine. In 2009 she left a role heading up the digital marketing team at Cadbury to set up an agency with a colleague. They ran this successfully for 6 years, but for Fran the world of business consulting was lacking something.

So when her friend Carrie shared her thoughts on a new type of undertaker she saw a real opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives. They joined forces and A Natural Undertaking was born. Fast forward 3 years and the company has received a number of awards including Modern Funeral Director of the Year in 2016. They initiated regular Death Cafes across Birmingham and were founder members of BrumYODO – an award-winning community collaborative which creates spaces for people to talk more openly about death and dying.

Lecture: “The Business of Death”

During this session, Fran will explain how her business is helping to transform the funeral industry and to change people’s perceptions about what could or should happen when someone dies.

There are so many myths around the funeral industry and indeed death itself, that we have become ill-equipped to deal with the aftermath of someone’s death. We’re so used to the traditional black sombre funerals, the keeping of the body at arm’s length, the uniforms and procedure that so often accompany a funeral ceremony, that it could be argued they have overpowered our need to grieve “in ways that are right for us”.

We’re all different. We all need different things.

For decades now we’ve grown up being able to choose how to live, how to express who we are to the world.

Surely the same should be true in death?

It may be elaborate, it may be modest but shouldn’t we all be given the opportunity to make our own choices about our farewells without feeling guilty or disrespectful?

Does our mental health need us to reconsider the way we keep death out of our conversations, and the bodies of our loved ones hidden from view?

Could we even find ways to dispose of our dead that are better for our planet?

Biography: Lizzie Godwin (Creative Writer)

Elizabeth Jardine Godwin was born in South Africa and studied English Literature and Art History. She has taught in America and the U.K and is currently writing and teaching in England.  Her creative and critical work is concerned with the effects of landscape, building and memory and what this can tell us about our ongoing relationship with built and unbuilt landscapes. The importance of water and light in shaping our sense of architecture and the ecology of place is also a focus of her research and creative practice.

Workshop: ‘Cracks in the Pavement’

A writing workshop exploring loss and grieving. The session will involve reading, writing, discussion and culminate in the making of a personal reliquary in the form of a simple book form. Through the use of word and image, we will consider individual patterns of grief. The use of metaphor can help to offer a way of speaking about and beginning to understand loss.

The session will include free writing and focused writing. We will also create a simple book form that will house each participant’s writing from the day. The communicative power of book art and its therapeutic potential is a guiding principle in this workshop. (Book art materials will be provided).

Biography: Charlotte Jane Kessler (Artist)

Charlotte Jane Kessler is a published UK artist and therapeutic art facilitator. She is creative director of Behind The Waterfall and runs soulful art making workshops designed to help individuals step back from everyday life and find empowerment through reflection, expression and personal growth.  Charlotte holds a BA Hons degree in Fine Art and a masters in Art Therapy and has worked previously with issues of addiction, depression and anxiety as well as mental health.

Workshop: ‘Death and Resurrection’

Charlotte will share her personal creative response to death through a piece of art work she created and which became an important starting point in her life for a new path; a surprising revelation which turned grief on its head.

The art therapy workshop to follow will introduce art materials and offer some exercises to play and explore. Using art making and mark making themes of letting go will be explored, using metaphors inherent to nature, such as the seasons of Autumn and Winter.

There is an invitation to open up the spectrum of the concept of death and dying.

The workshop will be an opportunity to consider natures cycles of death and resurrection to explore ‘mini deaths’ of life’s chapters, limiting self believes, cocoons of illusions and personal ‘stories’.

Work can be taken home or destroyed (as part of the creative act)


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