De/Composing Death: An Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference

deadline for submissions: 
May 7, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Dalhousie Association of Graduate Students in English

** DEADLINE EXTENDED: May 7, 2018 **


“When the white men entered the camp, all the Inuit were inside one of the igloos; they started hearing people outside… Then a woman went out to see them. She comes back very shaky and says, ‘They’re not Inuit; they’re not human.’

[After debating whether the starving qallunaat (white men) are human or spirit, the Inuit attempt to feed them and then leave the camp, having “heard that qallunaat kill Inuit people sometimes.” Upon returning to the camp some time later,] they saw four dead bodies in that igloo. Originally there had been nine or ten white men. The seals were never touched; but two of the men were partly eaten; the other two must have been the last survivors.”


Tommy Anguttitauruq, retelling the story told by Nicholas Qayutinauq

from Encounters on the Passage: Inuit Meet the Explorers, Dorothy Eber


On the verge of death, the survivors of the Franklin expedition offer a chilling prospect for the Inuit who encounter them. Unfamiliar with the bodies and behaviours of the qallunaat (white men), the Inuit look upon the walking corpses and must determine the line between death and life, between human and spirit—this determination has profound implications for the Inuits’ (and qallunaats’) biological and social security, as well as for their understanding of their ever-widening world, what constitutes humanity, and the ethical treatment of others. Meanwhile, the survivors, who eventually succumb to disease, starvation, exposure, and cultural ignorance, are brought to their ends by virtue of their involvement in the capitalist and imperialist search for the Northwest Passage. Here, death is a meeting place of cultures, bodies, and our various ways of making sense of it.


Death is, of course, central to our understanding of life, and its reality seeps into many areas of human knowledge: how can we, from our various perspectives, make sense of death? How do we grieve individually, as a society? What is the future of death and our ever-constant pursuit for immortality? What technologies enable us to deny death? How is death weaponized within systems of (racial, sexist, ableist, classist) oppression? What is the role of the undead in cultural expression? When are we haunted by history? How do we live on a dying planet? How do we contend with undead materials (like plastic)? How does death feed into cycles of life and re-growth? How do we use death, destruction, and decomposition as a metaphor (for example, for social change)? We encourage thoughtful engagement with these questions, as well as other responses to death in literature, the arts, history, popular culture, politics, science, technology, environmental studies, and the everyday.


The Dalhousie Association of Graduate Students in English (DAGSE) invites submissions of paper presentations for “De/Composing Death: An Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference.” We welcome proposals from students at all levels and in all areas of graduate study. We encourage proposals from marginalized voices – including those who identify as queer, transgender or BIPOC – and prospective presenters are welcome to self-identify in their proposals. This three-day conference will be held August 10th to 12th, 2018 at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and will investigate past and contemporary responses to and understandings of death – its process, significance, and representation. Childcare will be provided upon request.


We invite proposals for papers (15-20 minutes) on themes and subjects including, but not limited to:

  • Cultural responses to death (ex. elegies) in art, literature, theatre, film, pop culture, etc.
  • Collective and individual grief, cultural grieving practices (Is Elvis really dead?)
  • The undead and the walking dead, zombies, vampires, ghosts, cyborgs
  • Metaphorical deaths
  • War and the weaponization and glorification of death
  • Death and discrimination, genocide, eugenics & healthcare 
  • The ethics of death, euthanasia
  • Death and the legal system, capital punishment
  • The biology and biochemistry of death
  • Aging, palliative care
  • The future of (im)mortality, mind uploading
  • Reading the record of past life, archaeology, paleontology
  • (Non-human) death in the Anthropocene, death of the planet, mass extinction
  • Cycles of death & decomposition   
  • Religious responses to death
  • Representations of the Afterlife


Keynote Speakers: Dr. Lyn Bennett (Associate Professor, Dalhousie University) and Sarah Clift (Assistant Professor, University of King's College)


Submissions: Please submit a 250-word abstract plus a 50-word biographical statement that includes your name, current level of graduate study, affiliated university, and email address to Panel submissions are also welcome.


Please include the words “De/Composing Death Conference Abstract” in the subject line.


Deadline: 7 May 2018. Accepted presenters will receive notification in mid-May.


Contact the organizers at if you have questions about the conference. Visit the conference website at