Stories in the Stones: An online course by Atlas Obscura 

Last Sunday was my last session of Stories in the Stones with Dr. Elise Ciregna. I enjoyed this course so much and wanted to share my experience and thoughts with you. I met some interesting and like-minded people and learned some very interesting things about cemeteries and gravestones. The last four weeks have been filled with presentations, discussions, readings, and visiting cemeteries, so I thought writing about it would be a great way to cap off the experience.

Stories in the Stones is a four-part seminar with Dr. Elise Ciregna. Dr. Elise is a historian specializing in social, visual, and material culture. She has a master’s degree in the history of art and architecture from Harvard University.1 She has worked for historic cemeteries and is the former President of the Association for Gravestone Studies. Elise is a fountain of knowledge and shares it eagerly. I enjoyed getting to know her over these last four weeks. There were 14 people in my seminar, all connected by a love and interest in cemeteries, and all with varying backgrounds. It was great to meet other taphophiles. 

The course is broken down into 4 sessions:

  • The Colonial and Early National Period: Stones and Crossbones
  • The Nineteenth Century The Rural Cemetery Movement and the Age of Marble
  • Cemeteries as Spaces for Specific Communities
  • The Twentieth Century to the Present + Genealogical Research.1

Everything was done over Zoom and Google Classroom. I have never used Google Classroom before but it didn’t take long to figure out its functionality. Dr. Elise posted all her slides there, as well as resources, suggested readings, and the optional homework. I didn’t get a chance to read all the suggested readings during the duration of the course, but I found the readings I did have a chance to read, helpful to follow along with the slides. I plan to finish the suggested readings, as well as follow up with the other resource links that were provided. I also enjoyed the homework assignments, although I didn’t share them with the class. We did have the opportunity to share, either before the class presentation or in Google Classroom. The optional homework was a great tool to further my understanding of the material.

As I mentioned before, I enjoyed this course immensely. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into it, being a Canadian in an American-based course, but I found all the information interesting and useful. Elise expertly walked us through the history and evolution of gravestone symbols, the background of stone carvers, as well as the evolution and distinctions between different types of cemeteries. Not only is Dr. Elise a repository of information and experience with historic cemeteries, but she also loves to share that knowledge. If you have a question that she doesn’t know the answer to, she will take the time to try and find the answers.

I feel that I truly learned a lot from this course. After just the first session, I visited some cemeteries with some friends and found myself putting the teachings into action, by explaining symbols and tombstone attributes to my friends. They joked that now they didn’t need to take the course. My only complaints are that it was too short! I feel like they could have added a couple of extra sessions to delve into some of the subjects, like specific community cemeteries. I also would have liked to get a certificate of completion at the end. I personally think it would have been fun to have and frame for my wall.

So, if you have been thinking about signing up for this course, here is your sign! Taphophiles, historians, and genealogists alike will find something interesting in this course. Regardless if you have a little or a lot of knowledge of gravestone studies, I think you would learn something new and love this course.

Have you taken this course? Did you enjoy it? I would love to read about your experience in the comments.

Thanks for reading! 


References:

  1. Stories in the Stones: How to Read a Gravestone With Dr. Elise M. Ciregna

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