The Undiscovered Country

Written by Carl Watkins
Review by Doug Kemp

Until quite recently, the subject of death was not a subject that attracted considerable academic interest. It was left mostly to the church to pontificate upon the nature of the afterlife, with chilling descriptions of the warm penalties awaiting the unrepentant sinner. This has changed, with a stream of studies dealing with the unavoidable topic that will come to us all in the end. As with many contemporary approaches to history, Carl Watkins takes the bottom-up route – looking at the experiences and beliefs of a few individuals from the late medieval period onwards – to assess and analyse how society in general has changed its attitudes towards death and the afterlife, with the declining role of the church. The writing is thoroughly engaging, and the extensive footnotes provide a vast array of sources for the reader who may well wish to explore the subject a little further.