Author: lucysimpsonmmu

Manchester Met Encounters Corpses

This was originally published on the Humanity Hallows website.

By Daniel J Broadley

Following the success of the first instalment of ‘Encountering Corpses’ in 2014, Manchester Metropolitan University’s (Manchester Met) Humanities in Public (HiP) Festival has resurrected the event for an open discussion on all things to do with the dead.

This time, the event took place in the Manchester crematorium, HiP Festival Co-Ordinator, Helen Darby saying:

“It might sound gruesome to some but it isn’t about death, or not just death. A lot of brilliant work is being done around death and death acceptance.

1915651_10154101674937642_2859063105991575314_nThis work is about the materiality of the human body. Not that you will die, and your consciousness end or go elsewhere, but that your material will remain. This body, that you measure, chastise, build up, tattoo, feed, starve, neglect, take for granted, worship… It will be left, passive and alone, for others to take care of. Other hands will lift it, transport it and, ultimately, dispose of it.”

She added, “It is worth discussion and contemplation. Buddhists meditate on this and find a loss of ego. I find community and the importance of care. We carry each other, or we lie where we fall.”

Manchester Met Professor of Human Geography Craig Young opened the conference before introducing the first panel. Dr John Troyer, of the Centre for Death and Society and University of Bath, opened the first discussion by focusing on radical life extension through bio-material exchange. Or, in simpler terms, organ donation. This is a practice that was widely rejected in the 1950s but that has now become more accepted. With 3D printing an ever-growing technology, Dr Troyer says 3D printed organs may not be a fantasy for much longer. He then focused on aging and how Google are funding Calico, a project dedicated to slowing the aging process.

Dr Trish Green, of the Hull York Medical School, then took the floor to discuss anatomical bequeathal. This is the donation of the whole body, not just organs, for the purpose of medical research and education. Dr Julie, also of Hull York, elaborated on this by talking about the Medical School Anatomy Unit. She focused on the process new medical students go through when encountering their first body:

“There’s a focus on professionalism in their training. It’s done in a way that they recognise the body as a person but also being able to manage it as an object for their anatomical procedure.”

She went on to say that new medical students are told to treat their donated bodies as their first patient, therefore humanising their learning base.

After a quick lunch break, plenary speaker, Carla Valentine of the Barts Pathology Museum took to the stage. Carla studies the relationship between humans and human remains, from looking at medieval obsessions and Victorian experiments to modern sanitation.  Carla is a huge advocate for using human remains for education and research, a topic she explores in her Remains To Be Seen project.

She said, “There is something valuable about seeing human specimens. They can help us understand DSC_0011something we may not otherwise be able to understand. For example, the fractured skull of a child may help us understand child abuse.

I’m optimistic about public display becoming as open as it was in the 19th century.”

Carla went on to say we cannot make presumptions about people’s reactions to human specimens.  Some people, she said, would be outraged over human fetus specimens being put on display. However, she said she once met a woman who had had a miscarriage who was fascinated by them, her point being that we cannot dictate how people may or may not react to something, which is reflected in the government’s intention to soon regulate public displays.

Research Fellow from the University of Central Lancashire Dr Jonathan Westaway began the final part of the conference. He gave a presentation called ‘Mountain of Memory, Landscapes of Loss’ in which he discussed the lost bodies of climbers and mountaineers. It is estimated there are over 200 bodies on Mount Everest that may never be recovered.

Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce, Lecturer in Sociology at the University of York, gave the penultimate talk. She spoke about how celebrities still live on after they die. For example, Michael Jackson still makes over a hundred million dollars a year. Forbes even have a separate top rich list for dead celebrities, topped by the likes of Jackson and Elvis. In addition to this, celebrities are also still owned, after they die, by The Authentic Brands Group. Audrey Hepburn is still in chocolate adverts, Marilyn Monroe is in Coca Cola ads and James Dean, from beyond the grave, is still advertising jeans. The final section of the presentation was about how celebrities are sometimes used as scapegoats, the public saying what they like about them, for example, regarding Heath Ledger and his prescription drug use.

DSC_0020The final speaker was Dr Gemma Angel of University of College London who spoke about the history and anthropology of the European tattoo and the medical museum collections of human remains.

The theme for the next strand of the Humanities in Public festival is ‘World’. For more information, click here.


ESRC Research Seminar: Dead Body Politics, Materialities and Mobilities

Professor Craig Young continues his ESRC Research Seminar Series on contemporary encounters with corpses.

Mobilities etc.The fourth seminar in this series, Dead Body Politics, Materialities and Mobilities, has been organised by Professor Craig Young of Human Geography at Manchester Metropolitan University and Dr Jon Shute, lecturer in the school of Law at University of Manchester.

The seminar will explore multi-disciplinary approaches to the dead body. Professor Young said: “The seminar will capture a range of responses to dead and associated material remains – by law academics, historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, geographers and artists”.

Young is interested in the intersection of place, landscape, history and memory and the politics of identity with regards to the dead body. A focus on corpses originally arose from Craig’s study of the mobilities of the dead bodies of Romanian Communist leaders and activists during state-socialism and post-socialism. He is interested in how the dead body is a subject of ‘dead body politics’ but also has agency in its own right.

Professor Young said: “This seminar in the ESRC Encountering Corpses research seminar series will focus on the politics of corpse (im-)mobilities and materialities. Dead bodies are usually thought of as ‘dead and buried’, static and immobile and removed from life, but this seminar will foreground how human remains persist and can provoke new formations of identity and politics”.

He explained: “How human remains move around (eg. are repatriated or exhumed and re-interred) and their materialities (what form they take, what remains and how it is viewed and regulated) can be central to processes of forming identity and politics. Understanding these processes can inform our understanding of genocide, the Holocaust and justice for the dead but also in seemingly more mundane spaces such as museums”.

Professor Young’s work has captured the public’s imagination, and his many public engagement events attract a high turn-out every year. Professor Young and Dr Shute’s shared aim is to make the physicality of the dead body something neither lost nor forgotten within public discourse, which focuses on the live body as a site of power and identity but largely ignores similar considerations after death.

They said: “We hope the audience will take away a renewed appreciation of the role the dead can play in the contested politics of repatriation, reconciliation, the post-colonial, museum curation and artistic representations.”


The series will continue into 2017. Details of future seminars can be found here.

Dead Body Politics, Materialities and Mobilities will take place on 18th March 2016, 1.00pm – 4.30pm at 70 Oxford Street. Tickets are free and available here:

The seminar will be followed by a free film screening of ‘Earth Promised Sky’ (2003) at 6pm. Tickets are free and available here:

ESRC Seminar 4: Dead Body Politics, Materialities and Mobilities

ESRC Research Seminar Series: On encountering corpses: political, socio-economic and cultural aspects of contemporary encounters with dead bodies

esrcSeminar 4: Dead Body Politics, Materialities and Mobilities

When: 18th March 2016, 1.00pm – 4.30pm

Location: Room no. LB.02, 70 Oxford Street, Manchester (beside Manchester Oxford Road rail
way station).

Tickets: Free – available here:

Organised by Professor Craig Young (School of Science and the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University) and Dr Jon Shute (School of Law, University of Manchester)


Mobilities etc.Schedule:


  • Project partners, invited speakers and audience
  • Seminar: Dead body politics, materialities and mobilities- Room LB.02


  • Professor Craig Young (Human Geography, MMU) and Dr Jon Shute (Law, UoM)
  • Introduction: Dead body politics, materialities and mobilities


  • Dr Jon Shute (Law, UoM)
  • Journeys in Space and Time: Human Remains and the Srebrenica Massacres


  • Dr Jean-Marc Dreyfus (History, UoM)
  • Forgotten exhumations: the French mission in search of corpses from deportees in Germany, 1946-58


  • Coffee break


  • Dr John Harries (School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh)
  • Repatriating Beothuk skulls and the affective politics of indigeneity


  • Dr Gemma Angel (Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London)
  • Mortal Remains: Confronting the Dead in the Medical Museum


  • Dave Griffiths (Manchester School of Art, MMU), Michael Branthwaite (School of Art and Design, Staffordshire University) and Dr Caroline Sturdy Colls (Archaeology, Staffs.)
  • Finding Treblinka: artistic responses to forensic evidence


  • Concluding remarks and close

Followed by an evening film event at No. 70 – a free screening of ‘Earth Promised Sky’ (2003). Tickets are free and available here: 

Screening of ‘Earth Promised Sky’

A public screening of the documentary ‘Earth Promised Sky’, directed by Sabina Subasic (2003)

When: Friday 18th March 2016, 6.00pm – 7.30pm

Where: 70 Oxford Street, Manchester, M1 5NH

Tickets: Free – available here:

earth promised sky 2This documentary focuses on the exhumation of mass graves and the identification of remains from the Bosnian War (1992-95) for the Bosnian Commission for Missing Persons.

Introduced by Professor Craig Young (Human Geography, MMU) and followed by an update and discussion with Dr Jon Shute (Law, University of Manchester).

Dr Jon Shute is Lecturer in Law at the University of Manchester. He has enduring research interests in human development, family stress, and most recently, the criminology of mass violence. He is a Co-Investigator on the ERC-funded programme ‘Corpses of Mass Violence and Genocide’, and a member of the ESC’s Atrocity Crime & Transitional Justice Working Group.


esrcThis event is part of the ESRC Research Seminar Series: On encountering corpses: political, socio-economic and cultural aspects of contemporary encounters with dead bodies.

cfp Geographies of loss, grief and carrying on: the nexus of death, diversity and resilience

RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016, London, August 30-September 2, 2016

Session sponsorship: Social and Cultural Geography Research Group (SCGRG) and Geographies of Health and Wellbeing (GHWRG)

Session Conveners: Avril Maddrell (UWE), Charlotte Kenten (GOSH), Katie McClymont (UWE), Olivia Stevenson (Glasgow/UCL)

Building on a growing body of work on geographies of death, dying and remembrance (e.g. Evans 2014; Maddrell and Sidaway 2010; Stevenson et al 2016, Social and Cultural Geography), these sessions will explore the spatial dimensions of social, cultural, material and immaterial complexities of the nexus of human and non-human life-death, absence-presence, grieving-consolation.

Papers are invited from Geography, History, Planning, Design and related areas which are attentive to difference and diversity (Global South/ North, gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality, age) and address critically-engaged, theoretical, empirical and methodological issues, including:

  • The physical, emotional, spiritual and virtual spaces and practices of living-dying, including life-shortening illnesses, suicide, survival, remembrance and consolation
  • Discursive and material spaces and boundaries of grievability, including non-human loss
  • Intersections of time-space in practices and performances of loss and resilience
  • Inclusive and exclusive deathscapes and practices
  • Policy and planning needs and responses in diverse and multicultural societies
  • Research methodologies, ethics and researcher care and resilience

If you are interested in giving a paper, please submit a title and 200 word abstract for consideration to by noon February 10th.

‘Making a Place for the Dead’

Professor Young spoke about ‘Making a Place for the Dead’ as part of Humanities in Public 2015/16. Humanities in Public is festival of diverse events all year round at MMU.

Professor Craig Young (Centre) Inaugural Lecture, Introduced by Prof. Professor Berthold Schoene with respondent Professor Douglas James Davies (Left)

Professor Craig Young (Centre) Inaugural Lecture, Introduced by Prof. Professor Berthold Schoene with respondent Professor Douglas James Davies (Left)

By Lucy Simpson

For most, the concept of the dead as ‘present’ and mobile, rather than absent and static, is something reserved to the confines of horror films. However, Professor Craig Young took confrontations with corpses out of the realms of fantasy and into Manchester at his lecture at MMU on Monday 28th September.

Professor Craig Young’s lecture kicked off the new festival programme in true Humanities in Public style as he engaged with multidisciplinary persppectives of contemporary encounters with corpses, in a talk that had something for everyone. He addressed the unearthing of buried history (quite literally) with the reburial of Richard III, alternative burial methods, and students’ responses to seeing and dealing with images of dead bodies in the classroom, remembering a time when he was almost in tears in front of a third year class.

With increasing focus on dead bodies in museums, popular culture, and ‘dark tourism’, Professor Craig Young argued that acknowledging that the dead are “objects who continue to engage, influence, confine, or structure other social agents” is a step forward. By dealing with the social, cultural, and political implications of encounters with the dead, Craig encouraged his audience to consider what is respectable and acceptable treatment of dead bodies.

Craig’s previous work with ‘Encountering Corpses’ and ‘The Bone Ages’ has increased public discourse surrounding issues of ‘death politics’. This was made possible by his success in winning an ESRC Research Seminar Series award of £30,000 to fund a three-year project of events at MMU surrounding contemporary encounters with corpses. This will continue with ‘Encountering Corpses II’ next year.

By placing many of his previous events in museums and cemeteries, Craig forces us to address our engagement with dead bodies and question our responses. He discussed theological objections and prohibitions against burial at sea, for fear of the returning body, making it clear how the deceased still have their own materiality and mobility.

Earlier this year, the body of Richard III was dug up from its original site under a council carpark and moved to Leicester Cathedral for reburial. Even 500 years after his death, York and Leicester both claimed Richard’s body should be theirs, so they could benefit from the increase in tourist trade.

With ongoing commodification of the dead, are we becoming scarily close to forgetting that these bodies were actually once ‘human’? And with death and processes of mourning being placed more and more in the public sphere with roadside shrines, forensic TV dramas, and images of dead refugees and migrants saturating the media, is seeing and dealing with dead bodies on a daily basis being increasingly normal? Questions of ethicality and economic gain in relation to dead bodies are only becoming more and more relevant. Inescapably, the lifeless influence the living.

The treatment, consideration, and conceptualisation of dead bodies is something Dr Young has been working with for years. His interest was inspired by his study of the mobilities of communist corpses in Romania, including leaders and activists, such as Petru Groza. He displays an ongoing interest in how the dead body is a subject of ‘dead body politics’ but also how it the lifeless still have agency in their own right.

At the end of his talk, Craig assessed his own mission, reflecting that maybe engaging with death in the same way we engage with life is an “impossible task”. Accepting death is against our basic survival instincts. However, he certainly made a space for the dead in the heads of his attendees on Monday evening, who said it had made them consider what they wanted to happen to their own body after death and even “opened their eyes to what death is, also perhaps the ‘beauty’ in death”. Craig will continue to make a space for them, outside of the burial ground, and in contemporary discourse.