Both in our time and in the past, death was one of the most important aspects of anyone’s life. The early modern period saw drastic changes in rites of death, burials and commemoration. The Reformation, European expansion, scientific advances and changes in public health and hygiene all contributed to the changing ways in which men and women in this period experienced death. This international and interdisciplinary conference expands the scholarship on death by focusing on perhaps the most important period connected to death: the last moments of life. By focusing on this particular moment in a range of European countries and their colonies, the conference investigates how men and women prepared for their death, how friends and family experienced the death of a person and what an early modern deathbed looked like. While the conference investigates the last moments in a bedchamber, it also contrasts them with extreme situations, such as the moments before an execution or prolonged deaths because of serious diseases.
The conference seeks to combine insights from history, art history, theology and other disciplines in order to shed light on this crucial moment in a person’s life. It considers the whole early modern period in order to trace changes over a long period of time and investigates different national, regional and local contexts to enable meaningful comparisons.
We now invite proposals for papers. We are particularly interested in papers which address the following themes:
1. The Ideal Death: How did people prepare for their deathbed? What was a deathbed supposed to look like? How did theologians, scholars and elites envisage an ideal death? How was the deathbed depicted? Which models for an ideal death existed in the early modern period? Who was present around the deathbed?
2. Space and Time: Where did people die? How does the bedchamber fit into narratives of public and private? Wat did an early modern bedchamber look like, where was it positioned in the layout of the house? When did people die? Did it make a difference to die after a long period of illness or quickly? Were ideas of a ‘good deathbed ‘exported’ to non-European territories?
3. Objects and Rituals: What can the deathbed as an object tell us? Which objects were present around the deathbed and in the bedchamber? What role did food and drink in the bedchamber play? How was medicine used to try and prevent a death? Which theological rituals were used around the deathbed? Which medical practices were employed around the deathbed?
4. Disruptions to the Deathbed: How was the ‘ideal deathbed’ appropriated, challenged and adapted? How did the scaffold, stake and battlefield differ from the deathbed? What were the last moments of heretics and criminals like? What was it like to die in captivity? What was it like for Europeans to die in colonies, far away from European centres?
Proposals for 20 to 30 minute papers should be sent to Benedikt Brunner (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Martin Christ (email@example.com) by 31 March 2021. We hope to be able to cover travel and accommodation costs for participants. We anticipate to publish the proceedings of the conference.