Slavic 39: Freshman/Sophomore Seminar: Cemeteries and Histories of Death

Th 2-4, 6115 Dwinelle. Instructor: Olga Matich.

Units: 2, P/NP

Like all cultural institutions, death has a history. We will explore this history as it relates to each one of us and by reading about it and visiting local cemeteries and columbaria, including the Russian cemetery near San Francisco. If death has become more private, even invisible in modern times, burial grounds remain public spaces. Our main focus will be the garden cemetery as the locus of memory, reflections on death, political, social and cultural consequence, and tombstones, their inscriptions, and artistic design. We will read selections from The Hour of Our Death by the French historian Phillippe Ariès and The Work of the Dead, a recent book by Berkeley historian Thomas Laqueur, as well as some literary texts by Tolstoy and others and view some contemporary films.

Class will meet for two hours once a week. Two field trips (in lieu of class) will be scheduled the second week of the semester.

A longstanding cemetery buff, Professor Olga Matich is working on a history of cemeteries. She has published an article on the Russian mafia burial practices and tombstones of the 1990s in Global Crime. What makes these gravesites so remarkable are the life-size photo-representations of the dead Mafiosi engraved on the tombstones. Among her other research interests are Russian modernism in the literary and visual arts, including the cultural history of Petersburg, prerevolutionary capital of Russia (

Prerequisites:  Freshman standing.