Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Denise Phillips

Committee Members

Susan Lawrence, Monica Black, Sarah Eldridge, Vejas Liulevicius


This dissertation explores the spread of morgues into the provinces of Bavaria between 1855 and 1914, examining how nineteenth-century Bavarians’ cultural practices around death, burial, and the corpse changed with the establishment of these new medical institutions. The morgue began in Germany as a place to store the dead to ensure putrefaction and prevent the accidental burial of the living; following a cholera epidemic in 1854, it became a place to store victims of this illness. In the second half of the nineteenth century, ideas about morgues and their uses continued to develop. Physicians proposed that the morgue could be repurposed into something more than just a storage facility; it could also be a place to prevent the spread of contagious diseases, determine the cause of death, and finally to provide the deceased with a hygienic and respectful resting place before burial.

In adding a study of smaller local morgues to previous work on urban morgues, my research adds new facets to our understanding of these institutions and their place within modern life, without treating the city as a privileged site for “modernity” and as the sole locus of change. Unlike today, the morgue was not a familiar institution to nineteenth-century Bavarians. The residents of provincial towns and villages confronted and mourned death in various ways, depending on class, tradition, and religion. With the implementation of morgues, academically-trained physicians reshaped practices around death and burial—acts which made death a state concern. However, my dissertation shows how influences from the Bavarian provinces also changed these institutions. I argue that the morgue went from an unfamiliar and contested institution to a culturally embedded clinical establishment where the dead brought together state physicians, church officials, and local populations.

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