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In the Classroom > Course Overview > Unit Overview
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Lesson 12: Death and the Deerfield Graveyard

Lesson Central Question:

In This Lesson:

How is death an indicator of the community beliefs and values?
How have the rituals surrounding death changed over time?

Lesson Length
Key Ideas

Lesson Length

1 class period (85 minutes)

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Key Content Ideas Taught in this Lesson and Teacher Background

Death rituals in the home and subsequent burial and mourning practices reveal much about community values and social classes. Although these rituals have varied over time because of changes in the belief system, these rituals were shared, varying only in terms of social position. The social elite used this time to once again demonstrate their wealth.

Teacher Background Essay: Death and Community

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Intended Learning Outcomes

Students will understand:

  • Burial practices were structured differently than they are today.
  • Because of the high death rate of the period, representations of death communicated a more personal meaning and reminded people of the inevitability of their own death.
  • Both belief systems and fashion, in addition to available materials and artisan skill, governed the choice of iconography seen in gravestone and mourning art through time.

Students will be able to:

  • Make educated deductions between iconography on gravestones and in mourning art, and the culture and religion of the time.
  • Use information gained from this and other periods to develop a continuum showing the growth of the Deerfield community.

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In Preparation for Teaching

1. Read Teacher Background Essay: Death and Community

Further Background Readings:
Deetz, James. In Small Things Forgotten. New York: Doubleday, 1996 Dublin Seminar. Puritan Gravestone Art. Boston: Boston University, 1976.

Forbes, Harriette. Gravestones of Early New England and the Men Who Made Them. New York: Da Capo Press, 1967.

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Primary and Secondary Sources:

Unless otherwise noted, all can be found on the American Centuries website.

  1. Examples of gravestones
  2. Terms/iconography used in graveyards
  3. Memorial Embroideries from the Digital Collection

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Activity Materials in Context
  • Invite students to focus on the terms used on the tombstones, the shape of the stones, the material they were made of, the iconography, and the condition of the stones.
  • Ask students to complete a Digital Collection search about Memorial Embroideries and share their findings.

Based on the character that you are developing in your family, write an obituary of a family member, conduct an appropriate funeral, and then design a gravestone with an appropriate epitaph to place on the grave. Include a billing for the gravestone.

Examples of gravestones

Terms/iconography used in graveyards

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The writing of the obituary and the design of the gravestone.

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