dates de séjour
projet de recherche
Death in Transit
Death is both an intimate, and a highly social and political facet of the human experience. Using mortuary practices and embedded ideas about the meaning and consequences of death as my research lenses, I will contribute to an understanding of mobility and boundaries, north and south of the modern Mediterranean, from the late 19th century to the present. By closely following where and how people and institutions in this long century chose to bury their dead, I will be able to excavate novel findings about transnational and transcultural dynamics and the plurality and versatility of communal loyalties. My research into “death in transit” will also divulge the tensions between individual and society, expose the intersections between cultural and political attitudes, and reveal social and political hierarchies. Not so long ago, for both practical and spiritual reasons, sanctified corpses were expected to remain at the site of their original interment. Funerals thus indicated the deceased’s religious beliefs, spiritual and communal belongings, but also their political, environmental, material, and physical constraints. But what then happened to mortuary practices and to the meaning and consequences of death in the age of mass migration, transnational communities, and translocal families? Given long distance mass transportation, improved and more affordable embalmment, extended mortuary options, internationalized funerary business, and strategic spiritual marketing, what kind of changes have death and the dead also been undergoing? Given the increased regulatory strictures, but also the greater mortuary choices that our modern societies offer, what then happens to death rituals, beliefs, and practices? Historians have paid too little attention to the history of modern and contemporary death and dying from a global, transcultural, and interdisciplinary perspective, and especially within transient and transnational communities. What studies there are tend to be partitioned into geographical, religious, and historical areas of expertise. For example, in the history of the Middle East and North Africa, there is an abundance of academic and vernacular literature concerned with presumably static rituals, cemeteries, burials, and the archeology of death in general. Yet, this literature is scarce when it comes to modern death, particularly when reviewed across national, religious, and theological lines, and in the longue durée. In contrast, my project acknowledges change and merges historical, sociological, political, scientific, and philosophical inquiries. It contributes not only to a multidisciplinary history of death and dying, but also to the study of mobility, social and cultural boundaries, and material and immaterial exchange.
Mériam N. Belli received her PhD in Middle East history from Georgetown University in 2005. Between 2005 and 2008, Mériam Belli taught at Georgetown University; for Pepperdine University's internship program in Washington, DC; and at MIT, Cambridge, Mass. She joined the History Department at the University of Iowa in the fall of 2008. She specializes in the social and cultural history of the Arab Middle East. She earned an M.A. and a DEA (post-Masters thesis) in history at INALCO, Paris, France. Her book, An Incurable Past: Nasser's Egypt Now and Then (University Press of Florida, 2013) explores the 1950s-1960s and their representations within Egyptian society through stories of schooling (national memory); war and effigy-burning on the Suez Canal (local memories); and the apparition of the Virgin Mary (communitarian memories).
She is presently working on a transnational history of death and dying, that has for purpose to explore modern cultural and physical boundaries in the Mediterranean (Europe, North Africa, and Southwest Asia) from the late 19th-century onward.
Mériam Belli has a particular interest in oral history/memory, boundaries/mobility, nationalism/colonialism, and cultural performances and practices within the broad sphere of North Africa, Southwest Asia, and Europe."