Caitlin John (UCL) - 2019-20 Students
Cities of the Living and the Dead: Cemeteries in Late Medieval Cairo, Paris and Beyond.
My doctoral project is a comparative and microhistorical study of burial spaces in late medieval Cairo and Paris. The research questions that frame the project are two-fold: (1) How does focusing on cemeteries alter our spatial understanding of cities? (2) What do burial spaces reveal about the dynamics of the city of the living? By concentrating on the understudied space of the cemetery, I argue that we can re-evaluate many of our perceptions of cities and the communities therein. My comparative methodology highlights overlooked similarities across Christian and Islamic cities, while also paying attention to the particularities of individual cities. In doing so, it offers a methodological challenge to lingering notions of an ‘Islamic city’ or ‘Christian city’. My thesis comprises of seven chapters which are arranged into three parts. Part One argues that cemeteries were integral urban spaces, even where they were peripherally located. Here, I also argue that religious factors only shaped cemeteries to a limited degree. Part Two of my thesis explores burial communities and what they can tell us about urban social structures. Part Three of my thesis argues that cemeteries were exceptional spaces within cities, as they were integral, but also freer urban spaces. Cemeteries were public spaces which were less policed than their surrounding environment and offered opportunities for city-dwellers from different walks of life to gather and even at times challenge the prevailing social order. Cemeteries were integral, but also negotiated urban spaces in which a wide range of city-dwellers had stakes.