Jennifer Lechtanski | January 17, 2018
The Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame has awarded the 2018 Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European Studies to Thomas W. Laqueur for his book “The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains,” published by Princeton University Press.
The Laura Shannon Prize, one of the preeminent prizes for European studies, is awarded each year to the best book in European studies that transcends a focus on any one country, state or people to stimulate new ways of thinking about contemporary Europe as a whole. This year’s cycle of the award considered books in humanities published in 2015 or 2016.
“The Work of the Dead,” which examines the ways the dead have been treated in western Europe since the 18th century, was praised highly by the final jury:
The dead matter to us; they always have. But, as Thomas W. Laqueur demonstrates in “The Work of the Dead,” why and how the dead matter has changed over time. Subtitled “A Cultural History of Mortal Remains,” this fascinating book transcends a focus on any one country, state, people, or historical moment to consider how and why the living have cared for the dead from antiquity through the twentieth century. In clear and graceful prose, Laqueur examines his subject matter through lenses that are at times anthropological, historical, and philosophical in nature. The depth and breadth of his scholarship are particularly noteworthy. A monumental achievement, “The Work of the Dead” contains a vast reservoir of historical information and insights regarding cultural practices surrounding the treatment of the dead that scholars from many disciplines will draw upon for years to come.