Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce, University of York
Dr Samantha Matthews, University of Bristol
‘Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil’ (John Milton)
‘Fame is a food that dead men eat’ (Henry Austin Dobson)
This one-day symposium seeks to interrogate the role of death in the construction, negotiation and perpetuation of celebrity identity. For the ancients, true fame was necessarily posthumous, but in modernity, too, there remains an enduring fascination with what Andrew Bennett terms ‘the immortality effect’. Following the death of a celebrity, a variety of agents – friends, family, fans, professional associates, arts and heritage bodies – may interact to frame his/her legacy for posterity; moreover, celebrities themselves may take an active role in choreographing their cultural afterlives while still alive. Yet, while cementing, augmenting or rehabilitating the celebrity’s public profile, death can also prompt a reputational re-evaluation, with scandalous or unsavoury posthumous revelations resulting in the desecration, rather than the enhancement, of celebrity identity.
This symposium asks how death changes our relationship to famous figures: how are dead celebrities memorialised or forgotten, appropriated or overlooked in the interests of specific historical/cultural values? What kinds of media apparatus are involved in the curation, maintenance and reassessment of posthumous fame? What impact does the celebrity’s death have on the material objects, spaces and places with which s/he is associated?
Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:
· death-bed scenes and last words
· funerals, memorials and obituaries
· tragic or premature deaths
· contested/shifting legacies
· sites of pilgrimage, celebrity relics and possessions
· celebrity suicides/scandalous deaths
· celebrity self-fashioning of posthumous identity
· the role of the media (print and digital), fan networks, heritage industries and other agents in mourning/remembering dead celebrities
The organisers welcome proposals for 20 minute papers, or panels, which consider ‘celebrity’ in its many forms, and from a variety of historical and disciplinary perspectives.
Please send 200-word abstracts, with a 50-word biography to firstname.lastname@example.org by 30th April.