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Jail for the Dead: How New York City Buries the Unclaimed

  • Heyman Center Common Room 74 Morningside Drive New York, NY, 10027 United States (map)
Hart Island Final (1).jpg

A century and a half ago, New York began burying unclaimed bodies in mass graves using prison labor. On Hart Island, in the Long Island Sound, more than one million such burials have taken place. Changes wrought by the Civil War account for a sustained para-military handling of the dead as well as an increased role for physicians and diminished religious presence. For this event, the historian Thomas Laqueur joins Melinda Hunt, President of the Hart Island Project, in conversation—about the history of the potter’s field, as well as the work of the Project to document the dead, and win visitation rights for families.

Please RSVP here.

This event is cosponsored by the Department of History, the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, and The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities.


Melinda Hunt is a Canadian born interdisciplinary artist and founding director of The Hart Island Project. She holds an MFA from the Yale School of Art (1985) and MS in Digital Imaging and Design, NYU (2007). In 1991, Melinda began The Hart Island Project with photographer Joel Sternfeld. She published a book, Hart Island (Scalo 1998), and produced and directed a film, Hart Island: An American Cemetery (2008).

Thomas W. Laqueur is the Helen Fawcett Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to FreudSolitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation, and Religion and Respectability: Sunday Schools and Working Class Culture, 1780–1850. He is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books.