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Allison C. Meier

Allison C. Meier is a Brooklyn-based writer focused on history, architecture, and visual culture. Previously, she was a staff writer at Hyperallergic and senior editor at Atlas Obscura. She moonlights as a cemetery tour guide. Contact her on Twitter @allisoncmeier.

Shrunken heads in the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum

Human Remains and Museums: A Reading List

Questions over their value for research conflict with the ethics of possessing the dead, especially when presenting human remains in the setting of a museum.
Joseph Durham looking at an urn

The Care of the Dead: A Reading List

An interdisciplinary bibliography exploring the care of the dead and how our final choices are shaped by culture, religion, economics, technology, and war.
The death mask of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt, circa 1960

The Discovery of King Tut’s Tomb

A century ago, a lost tomb was uncovered on the west bank of the Nile River. The scarcely studied Pharaoh Tutankhamun immediately became an icon.
The Rosetta Stone

Jean-François Champollion Deciphers the Rosetta Stone

On September 27, 1822, the French philologist announced that he’d decrypted the key that would unlock Egypt’s ancient past.
Pee Dee Rosenwald School, Marion County, South Carolina, c. 1935.

How Black Communities Built Their Own Schools

Rosenwald schools, named for a philanthropist, were funded mostly by Black people of the segregated South.
Design for an Urn, 19th century

How Cremation Lost Its Stigma

The pro-cremation movement of the nineteenth century battled religious tradition, not to mention the specter of mass graves during epidemics.
ear gas is fired at protesters demonstrating against the death of George Floyd outside the 3rd Precinct Police Precinct on May 26, 2020 in Minneapolis, MN.

Why Do Police Use Tear Gas When It Was Banned in War?

The development of chemical warfare around the time of World War I led to the use of tear gas as a weapon by civilian police forces.
Plague column in Vienna, Austria

How to Memorialize a Plague

Vienna's baroque Plague Column, completed in 1693, gave thanks for the survival of a city.
A person driving a Mercedes

In Epidemics, the Wealthy Have Always Fled

"The poor, having no choice, remained.”
Ring with a photograph of an eye inside its setting

18th-Century Lovers Exchanged Portraits of Their Eyes

The miniature paintings celebrated and commemorated love at a time when public expressions of affection were uncouth.
Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, D.C., during the great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 - 1919

Surviving a Pandemic, in 1918

A century ago, Catholic nuns from Philadelphia recalled what it was like to tend to the needy and the sick during the great influenza pandemic of 1918.
Inside the Rothko Chapel

How the Rothko Chapel Creates Spiritual Space

Fourteen colossal black paintings by the modern artist Mark Rothko are installed in an octagonal room in Texas. Visitors say the chapel brings them peace.
Francesca Woodman, Untitled photograph, circa 1975-1978. Gelatin silver print.

Photographer Francesca Woodman’s Haunting Dissolutions

Woodman's imagery engaged with architectural and natural landscapes that were themselves in a state of change and decay.
An exhibition of Damage Control by John Baldessari

Why John Baldessari Burned His Own Art

The artist's "Cremation Project" of 1970 marked a liberation from the tradition of painting and a step toward a more encompassing vision.
via Ernie Wolfe Gallery

How Ghanaian Artists Infused Hollywood with Spirituality

The cinema in 1980s Ghana was DIY. So were the movie posters, now the subject of an exhibition at the Poster House in New York City.
Two Horsemen, Elgin Marbles at the British Museum

Wait, Why Are the Parthenon Marbles in London?

Lord Elgin went beyond his original mandate, amassing a vast store of treasures, one scholar notes.
A Red Cross nurse wearing a face mask, c. 1918

The 1918 Parade That Spread Death in Philadelphia

In six weeks, 12,000 were dead of influenza.
The Premature Burial by Antoine Wiertz

The Fear of Being Buried Alive (and How to Prevent It)

Pliny the Elder remarked: “Such is the condition of humanity, and so uncertain is men’s judgment, that they cannot determine even death itself.”
Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome, Italy

Why Are Cities Filled with Metal Men on Horseback?

The original inspiration for the now-ubiquitous equestrian statue, a classical bronze of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, was almost melted down and lost forever.
A coffinette for the viscera of Tutankhamun

Was It Really a Mummy’s Curse?

A slew of mysterious deaths following the opening of King Tut's tomb prompted one epidemiologist to investigate.
the Peacock Room

The Controversial Backstory of London’s Most Lavish Room

James McNeill Whistler created the famous "Peacock Room" for a wealthy patron. But the patron never actually wanted it.
“Colors That Never Run,” W1, Undated.

Ed Hardy Changed Tattooing Forever

Trained as a printmaker, this artist helped change American tattooing from a fringe behavior into an art form people use to express themselves.
Paris catacombs

How the Paris Catacombs Solved a Cemetery Crisis

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Paris—the Catacombs—was started as a solution to the intrusion of death upon daily life.
The Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum in St. Augustine, FL

Should Museums Display Shrunken Heads?

Tsantsas, or shrunken human heads, remind us of how museums have often been founded on a violent trade in indigenous culture.
Design 513, Damask, 1956 and Design 104, Printed Silk and Fortisan Casement [curtain fabric], 1955, by Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fraught Attempt at Mass Production

The famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright famously loathed commercialism, and yet he (reluctantly) designed commercial homewares to be mass-produced.