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Lively Activity for TIDES Day of the Dead Lecture

November 11, 2019 3:30 PM
Trisha Torres ltorres3@tulane.edu

Although a lively city, one can argue that New Orleans is not for the living. It is considered to be one of the most haunted places in America, and matching its ghostly reputation, the city itself is hauntingly beautiful. Shot gun houses, St. Charles mansions, laced wrought-iron balconies, and grand cemeteries culminate to create an architectural gumbo revealing French, Spanish, and Creole roots. First-year Tulane students can explore the city’s diverse culture and history by studying its folklore and burial practices in a Newcomb-Tulane College TIDES Course. 

TIDES 1001 New Orleans Cities of the Dead: Cemetery Architecture & Its Cultural Legacy, is dedicated to exploring the city’s historical and cultural funeral practices. Students in this course study historic figures, cemetery architecture, monument construction and funerary symbolism to answer questions such as: Why are above-ground tombs more prevalent in New Orleans? What are the different tomb types and their architectural styles? Why do families in Louisiana visit cemeteries on All Saints Day? What symbolism does funerary art reveal?

Adjunct Assistant Professor Heather Knight began teaching this course 10 years ago and has since continued to expand and refine the class field excursions, lectures and in-class experiences. In a recent event, Southern University Professor of Fine Art Cynthia Ramirez was a guest speaker. Ramirez educated students on Día De Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead’s, history and practices. Ramirez is considered to be an expert on Día de los Muertos customs in New Orleans, having constructed altars for the Ogden Museum, the Botanical Gardens and the Stone Center at Tulane over the last decade.

During the lecture, students learned about the importance of Día de los Muertos in Mexico and other parts of Latin America, as well as the evolving traditions and celebration in New Orleans.

Ramirez explored the many elements included in a Día De Los Muertos celebration such as sugar skulls which laugh at death, trails of marigolds for spirits to find their way home, and offrendas complete with food and object offerings tailored to honorees’ tastes. 

According to Knight, Día de los Muertos has grown in importance as a celebrated holiday in New Orleans over the last twenty years and even more rapidly over the last ten. She finds it important that Tulane students are exposed to these new and emerging cultural traditions in New Orleans.

“The common thread across borders,” says Knight, “is remembering and celebrating the dearly departed for one day of the year whether through building an altar, making sugar skulls or participating in a parade.”

Following Ramirez’s lecture, students had the opportunity to decorate their own sugar skulls. 

Victoria Khaghana, a student enrolled in the TIDES course, says painting the skulls lent a different perspective to death. The skull’s many intricacies and colors made something somber into something celebratory. 

Rebekah Obiatt, TIDES Peer Mentor for the course, was excited for the student’s exposure to the variety of cultures that come together in New Orleans, as conversation, lectures, and coursework often gravitate toward the city’s predominantly French culture.

“This class, in general, deals with a cross cultural analysis of things,” says Obiatt. “Every time we’re doing something that exposes students to new cultures, especially ones that are present in New Orleans, I’m happy. I think that’s valuable.”


Learn More About TIDES Courses