Date of Award

Summer 8-12-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art & Art History

First Advisor

Maria Antonella Pelizzari

Second Advisor

Lynda Klich

Academic Program Adviser

Maria Antonella Pelizzari


This thesis examines the text and images contained in James Van Der Zee and Camille Billops’s seminal photobook The Harlem Book of the Dead (1978). The title, frontispiece, and introduction, combined with Van Der Zee’s funerary portraits, illuminate the connection between African-American rituals of death and Pan-Africanism. While these two concepts appear to be distinct, they are both predicated upon and intrinsically linked to key values in African American culture, including liberation and the meaning of community. Each chapter focuses on a different contextual framework for situating The Harlem Book of the Dead within the historical and political moment in which it was created: post-mortem photography, the interconnectedness of Christianity and mourning rituals within the African American community, Pan-Africanism.



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