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Do public events of mourning influence how a society remembers events and people?

In the first Bucket Course of the fall 2022 semester, Dr. Sarah J. Purcell, L.F. Parker Professor of History at Grinnell College, will focus on how, during and after the Civil War, public spectacles of grief shaped public memory.

Professor Purcell will speak on Wednesday, September 14, from 10-11:30 am in the Drake Library Caulkins Community Room. The Bucket Courses are open to all; no fee or preregistration is required. Donations to support the purchase of refreshments will be welcomed.

Drawing on her new book, Spectacle of Grief: Public Funerals and Memory in the Civil War Era, Purcell will detail how funerals of figures as diverse as Robert E. Lee and Frederick Douglass influenced how the public remembered these figures and the events they participated in. The battle over how to remember the Civil War involved ideas about heroism, race, gender, and politics.

Dr. Purcell finds funerals a unique way to examine how people thought about their past: “Huge funerals involving material culture, media coverage, flowers, traveling corpses and much more tell us a lot about what people in the Civil War era valued. How people mourned their heroes reveals a lot about what they thought about the United States itself.”

Purcell has taught at Grinnell College since 2000. She graduated from Grinnell before attending graduate school at Brown University and teaching at Central Michigan University. Her book Spectacle of Grief was published in April 2022 by the University of North Carolina Press; she is the author or co-author of five previous books.

Members of the sponsoring Community Education Cooperative include Grinnell Regional Medical Center, Grinnell College, Drake Community Library, Grinnell-Newburg School District, Grinnell Area Arts Council, Mayflower Community, Grinnell Education Partnership, Read to Lead, and Iowa Valley Community College. Videos of previous Bucket Courses are available on the YouTube channel Grinnell Community Education Cooperative.

For more information, contact Judy Hunter judy586@gmail.com.

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