Using historic rural church cemeteries as a material culture resource in heritage education.

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Betterly, Richard
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Middle Tennessee State University
This dissertation provides the university history instructor with a student-centered instructional model utilizing the historic rural church cemetery as a material culture artifact. However, the model is applicable to other academic disciplines at both the collegiate and secondary education levels. The heritage education plan involves a two-part cemetery survey methodology. First, a reconnaissance survey locates cemeteries and collects data within a specified geographic region. Second, a comprehensive survey documents a cemetery's grave markers and other significant features.
To evaluate the survey methodology and to illustrate various approaches for using the results of surveys, St. John's Episcopal Church Cemetery in Maury County, Tennessee, serves as a case study. The history of the cemetery and significant people buried there illustrates how teachers can incorporate historical context into the results of a cemetery survey. The St. John's comprehensive survey also provides information on changing patterns of Victorian funerary art and architecture in Middle Tennessee. The correlation between grave markers and the cultural transformations in nineteenth century Victorian America provides a basis for understanding how funerary art and architecture serves as a teaching tool. A reconnaissance survey of similar rural graveyards located within a fifty-mile radius of St. John's Cemetery offers a regional context and comparison of Middle Tennessee's transitional gravestone style.
The dissertation is more than an analysis of how a rural church cemetery serves as a resource for heritage education. The processes to evaluate the physical conditions of such sites and to remedy problems associated with this type of material culture artifact also are detailed. The study reviews the literature dealing with preservation techniques and the legal protection afforded burial sites. By synthesizing the existing studies on cemetery preservation and by refining previous cemetery survey methods, the dissertation serves the nonacademic needs and concerns of public historians involved with preserving historic burial grounds. The dissertation's primary emphasis, however, is to encourage university instructors to adapt and apply its cemetery survey methodology and case study to other cemetery sites.