Smith, Michael Books

Dr. Michael Smith received his Ph.D. in History from Glasgow Caledonian University. He is a professional archival historian and Freelance Researcher in Scottish cultural history.

Secularization of Death in Scotland, 1815-1900: How the Funeral Industry Displaced the Church as Custodian of the Dead (a Study of Private Cemeteries, Public Crematoria, and Bereavement Practices in Edinburgh)
2015 0-7734-3521-2
Death is one of the few constants of human experience. It is a fact of life that binds humanity. Despite its familiarity, the rituals, customs, and attitudes relating to it are ever-changing, always reflecting the hopes, fears, and ambitions of living society. This book considers how death practices were transformed during the nineteenth century. Using Edinburgh as a backdrop, it covers a range of issues relating to death, from changing expectations at the graveside to changing attitudes toward the afterlife. The nineteenth century was a formative period. Here, we witness the foundations being laid for many of the features that we take for granted in the early twenty-first century.

A rapidly changing society saw death become a statistical issue, a public health issue, an event where professional practitioners become increasingly important in terms of how the vent was handled. Yet institutional change would be only one of a number of dynamic forces that were shaping the manner in which people met their end. An increasingly capitalist economy meant that death would become big business. This in turn would transform how the funeral and the expression of grief, would be performed. But it is never a one-way process, and change does not always filter down from an institutional level. Any change in death culture reflects a number of processes, some of which are obvious, and some given the private nature of loss, which are ultimately inscrutable.