Lee Sulkowska

HDR student
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I am researching changing attitudes to death and burial in the context of nineteenth century Victorian cemeteries. In particular, I am interested in the role that scandal plays and how the language used in reporting these misbehaviours reveals colonial social values. My PhD thesis is tentatively titled ‘Prevent this demoniacal horde’: Cemeteries, scandal and the language of civilisation in colonial Victoria.  

Using a postcolonial approach, I aim to understand how themes of class, gender, race, dispossession and colonisation are demonstrated in settlers’ interactions with cemeteries and death rituals. Many characteristics and principles surrounding death culture were transmitted from the British metropole to the Victorian colony. However, I contend that Victorian cemetery scandals reveal that the settlers were primarily concerned with issues of race and colonisation, due to the inherent dispossessing nature of settler colonialism. The legacy of our dead spaces influences our present day death practices and belief systems, and I hope to contribute in decolonising our historical narrative. 

  • What first sparked your interest in your field and how has that interest lead you to topic of research?

    In 2014, I was living in Edinburgh and came across a derelict cemetery; ivy had swallowed up tombstones, seas of catchweed clung to clothing and not a living soul walked there. That was it for me. I wondered – how do the living interact with dead spaces? What was it like in the past? What meanings to we attach to cemeteries and how has that changed over time?
  • What does “contemporary history” mean to you?

    For me, contemporary history is the aftermath of our past being felt in very real ways in the present. Sure, the legacy of the Roman Empire can still be seen in many ways, and Genghis Khan lives on in the DNA of millions, but the repercussions of colonialism, for example, is being experienced in much more immediate ways.

  • You are stuck on a desert island with four books. Three are related to your field/area and one isn’t. Which books do you bring with you?

    • Scandal in the Colonies – Kirsten McKenzie
    • Australian Ways of Death – Pat Jalland
    • Reading the Garden – Katie Holmes, Susan K Martin and Kylie Mirmohamadi
    • The Shining – Stephen King
  • You’re having a dinner party and can invite three guests from your field/area. Who do you invite?

    Lisa Murray and Julie Rugg to talk cemeteries, and Jo Cruickshank, because she’s my supervisor and deserves all the wine.
  • Imagine an ideal world with no constraints. What would you be doing with your HDR/where would your HDR take you?

    Ah, my castles in the sky. I would work with the Order of the Good Death to encourage death positivity in the community. I would work with the Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust in their delicious archive. I would travel to cemeteries across the world for an award-winning BBC series!

  • What do you do to relax and unwind after a long day of research/writing?

    I switch to prime-nanna mode. I’ll cross stitch while watching Great British Bake Off or knit while listening to podcasts. Sometimes I’ll make a mighty mess in the kitchen but get mediocre results. My nan would be disgusted.

  • If you could research another area/field/topic outside of your current area/field/topic, what would you research?

    I have dreams of one day writing a book on the family memories of survivors who left Poland after the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

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