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Sunday, June 4, 2023

Activities & Organizations

Interdisciplinary symposium to talk death and dying

Artists and scholars from various humanities will discuss their thoughts on concepts concerning death and dying at “The Art of Death and Dying” symposium beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday with an opening reception at the UH Honors College.

The three-day symposium will take place in the M.D. Anderson Memorial Library and will feature roughly 60 speakers who will talk about countless subjects related to death, dying and commemoration. Each presenter was selected by a blind jury that was unaware of their rank.

The event was initially designed for 30 speakers, but after 140 proposals were received, it was expanded. Associate librarian Catherine Essinger was part of the planning committee.

“Because they were really good, we were in a position where we were going to have to reject some really good papers and we felt bad about it. They all went before a jury that was made up of people who were on the University faculty,” Essinger said.

“They ended up selecting people from all over the world, both professors, scholars, writers, curators and even grad students (from UH).”

Those selected will present papers in the fields of architecture and landscape architecture, art criticism and theory, art history, cultural studies, dance, film and television, literature and music, Essinger said.

The topics of death, dying and commemoration are seen across art forms. The chance to host the event could bring further scholarship to UH as each paper is going to be published.

“Death studies is an emerging field — there are programs that are in it here and in Europe where you can major in death studies. You can get a certificate in it,” Essinger said.

“And so, it’s sort of a new field, both in the social sciences and the humanities. It’s growing increasingly important. (The event) gives the University of Houston an opportunity to further scholarship in that area.”

Each day of the symposium will showcase a variety of events, including tours of some historic Houston cemeteries and the Menil Collection, a screening of Issac Julien’s documentary “Looking for Langston,” a visit to the National Museum of Funeral History and a gallery talk at the Blaffer Art Museum.

Kerry Creelman, coordinator of instruction for the M.D. Anderson Memorial Library, also helped plan the event and is interested in the intersection of the arts and humanities.

“To me, the highlight of the event will be the interdisciplinary of the conversation. Arts and humanities are increasingly in conversation with each other and the breadth of the conversation leads to more in-depth, insightful readings of artistic presentations, which is very exciting,” Creelman said.

“And of course, we are looking forward to showing off Houston and the University of Houston, with our partners, to a national and international audience.”

The event is open to the public with registration. Tickets are $20 for students and $50 for faculty, staff and other guests. For more information, visit

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