CFP: Death Studies in the Italian Culture Panel

«La Morte! La Morte!» Mapping Italian Death Cultures from the Late Eighteenth Century until Today 

La morte! La morte! La morte che arriva! […] 

La morte, la morte, la morte e l’amore 

Che aspettano insieme il grande giudizio, 

E non hanno mai fine, non hanno mai inizio.  

T. Sclavi, Dellamorte dellamore

The global cultural transformations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic are drastically reshaping the construction of death, dying and disposal in the North Atlantic world. A systematic, interdisciplinary exploration of the modern thanatological imagination is thus urgently in order in every field of the humanities. 

This panel aims to provide an opportunity for such an investigation from the perspective of Italian studies. What are the features that characterise the Italian thanatological imagination? How can we trace its diachronic evolution? And what role did (and do) literature, arts and the media play​in shaping it? In other words: how can we map the Italian cultures of death, grief, and memory? 

The relation between death and literary and artistic creations has inspired some of the most relevant products of Italian culture since the Middle Ages — suffice to think of the Tre corone, or mementos such as the popular theme of the Danse macabre. However, the emergence of a modern thanatological imagination in Italy can be traced back to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These decades are indeed dense of artistic, sociological and political changes. A minor stream of authors finds its way on the market with melancholic and sepulchral poems, while a fashion for nocturnal atmospheres flourished in prosaic works such as Le notti romane by Alessandro Verri and Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis, a novel that Ugo Foscolo quilted with premonitions of death, graveyards, and stormy, sublime nights. Concurrently, the Napoleonic Edict of St Cloud imposed to bury the dead outside cities, triggering a lively debate on burial sites and public health, – a pioneer work was Scipione Piattioli’s Saggio intorno al luogo di seppellire. From that moment on, monumental cemeteries were created in response to changes in Italian politics – such as the fight for independence and the establishment of a nation state. Hygienic matters around burials ignited the creativity of novelists: cases of premature burials become the twist in the plots of popular feuilleton, as demonstrated by the great success of Carolina Invernizio’s eerie stories. Finally, the interest in psychological turns, scientific experiments and anatomical dissections lead to works by the Scapigliati, contemporary sci-fi, fantasy and murders’ stories.  

These premises invite us to look at the Italian thanatological imagination from multiple interdisciplinary perspectives, highlighting how fictions and media actively contributed to the elaboration of a number of its essential traits while exploring (non-)fictional characters and histories that still remain in the shadows. 

Themes for paper proposals include (but are not limited to): 

  • Italian death cultures and the medical humanities 
  • Italy and the Gothic 
  • Cemeteries, monuments, cenotaphs, and their representation across media 
  • Mediums, séances, mesmerists 
  • The elegy, the componimento in morte, the necrologio 
  • Italian sepulchral literature 
  • Thanatological crossings between fiction, anthropology, and ethnography: ritual weeping, funeral rites and dirges 
  • Suicide 
  • Heroic deaths and war memorials 
  • The representation of partigiani 
  • Journeys through the afterlife, from A. Varano’s Visioni sacre e morali to F. Fellini’s Il Viaggio di G. Mastorna through D. Buzzati’s Viaggio agli inferi del secolo    
  • The reception of Danze macabre and Trionfi della Morte across media 
  • Pestilences, epidemics, and catastrophes 
  • Death in Italian crime fiction 
  • Death and the supernatural in fiction 
  • Death, esotericism, and the occult 
  • The undead in Italian literature and media 
  • Folk horror 
  • Death in Italian speculative fiction 

If you are interested in contributing with a paper (in English or Italian) please send a short abstract (250 words) and a bio (150 words) to and by 15th March 2021.

All participants must be members in good standing of CAIS. Membership must be current by1 May 2021. Conference Registration will open in March 2021. The deadline to register for the conference is 15 April 2021.Papers should be no more than 15 minutes long with an opportunity for discussion among session participants.