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Ruth Elizabeth Toulson
Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore, MD 21217-4191)
Design for Death: Sustainable Disposition in the 21st Century Metropolis

Research for a book on urban planning and burial practices in five cities around the world.

The corpse has an afterlife: dead bodies live on, not merely as souls, ancestors, or memories, but in their materiality. They take up space in graves set aside in perpetuity, seep formaldehyde into the water supply, and release carbon monoxide into the air. The problem of what to do with corpses is pressing: in the next decade, multiple world cities will run out of room for the dead. This project, Design for Death: Sustainable Disposition in the 21st Century Metropolis, examines solutions to the problem of the dead body’s afterlife in five major world cities: New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Jerusalem, and Istanbul. Existing scholarship on sustainable disposition has focused largely on Christian and Euro-American contexts; in contrast the project takes a comparative, cross-cultural approach, articulating that spaces for the dead present not only planning challenges but spaces for ritual and remembrance.

Project fields:
Cultural Anthropology; Social Sciences, General; Urban Studies

Summer Stipends

Research Programs

$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2021 – 7/31/2021