Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, History

Exhuming American history

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While plenty has been written on the lives of such notable figures as Sitting Bull, John Paul Jones, Frank Lloyd Wright, Daniel Boone, Jefferson Davis, or Abraham Lincoln, in Digging Up the Dead: A History of Notable American Reburials Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Michael Kammen demonstrates that they have just as much to tell us after they are dead and gone. Examining the fascinating, surprising, and sometimes gruesome stories of exhumation and reburial of some of American history’s most influential dead people, Kammen shows how complicated interactions of regional pride, shifting reputations, and evolving burial practices can lead to public, often emotional battles over the final resting places of famous figures. As Drake Bennett writes in the lead-in to his recent interview with the author in the Boston Globe:

The disputes that have broken out throughout American history over where and how to inter our most honored countrymen—and they have broken out often—are vivid, elucidating examples of how it is that history, in the most literal way, is argued over, made and then remade. Where someone is buried, what the ceremony entails, what the memorial looks like, these help determine which version of history is enshrined and who gets to tell it.

For more read Bennet’s discussion with Kammen on the website or read this excerpt from the book.