Commemorative practices

During my undergrad, I spent time investigating burial practices from 1830-1898 in a local cemetery. My interest was in how people chose to commemorate the dead and what were the economic, cultural, religious, or other social factors impacting those decisions. I wish I could say I came up with an answer but that is not what happens in these types of studies. You come up with (hopefully) reasonable and well researched theories.

The cemetery reflected practices from people’s country of origin, often blended with the practices in the local area or practices of their adopted country exclusively. Of course, there were outliers: the monument that was in a category all on its own, skewing everything.

I also engaged in a study of the concept and the reality of multiculturalism in Canada: were people given the space to maintain their own country/cultural/religious identity or was assimilation the actual goal of multicultural policies in Canada? Again there is no one “answer” to that question; in a vast country, there are vast experiences and outcomes. 

These two interests are making me wonder (possibly in a masters thesis kind of way): Why is there a recent surge (or perhaps resurgence) of expectation that people who are immigrating need to ‘assimilate’, utilizing only the social practices of their adopted country, rather than blending with or maintaining practices of their place of origin? In a time of grief, loss, or significant change, it is more common for people to seek the familiar.

Commemoration practices on the large scale, including statues and monuments, are presently at the centre of controversy, both “what” is being commemorated and “who” the person was and what they represented. One of the benefits of looking at small scale displays of belief systems seen in cemeteries is that those social practices are often indicative of larger, communal commemorative practices.

The tie to multiculturalism and inclusion comes down to looking at history and using past patterns to help understand the present: Were people given emotional and physical space to commemorate the dead in ways most meaningful to them? Were other social practices as inclusive/exclusive? How does this relate to present day commemorative practices – or does it?

I don’t know if enrolling in a Masters program is the next step but I do know that I have a lot of unanswered questions yet to pursue.