Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Hypertext Epitaphs: The Digitization of Police Memorials & Funerary Writing

Michael Arntfield, University of Western Ontario


This dissertation interrogates the place of the slain police officer in the genealogy of “hero” obituaries from early post-Revolutionary War America to the present. More specifically, it addresses the production and reception of the Internet website known as the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), an interactive and digital archive of every on duty police death in American history. I argue here that changes in technology with respect to the production of funerary media ultimately ensure corresponding changes in the form of commiseration and commemoration by police officers and civilians alike. Chapter 1 of this dissertation serves as a general background and introduction to key terms while Chapter 2 sets out the historical background of written obituaries in the United States during the 19th century, with specific attention to police obituaries appearing in newspapers of record. Chapter 3 examines the imagistic transfer of myth from the soldier to the police officer in the wake of the First World War, specifically the role of myth as a vehicle for national solidarity and collective memory. Chapter 4 examines the production of digital memorials, including the ODMP, and the connection between instantaneity, aura, and community. Chapter 5 addresses private responses to the ODMP, including how they engender sepulchral hierarchies, with epitaphs that suggest heroism is qualified on a graduated scale according to circuits of consumption and fandom. Chapter 6 examines public responses to the ODMP, including their role in scribing a funerary omnibus or master narrative for the police generally, as well as for specific police departments in the United States where select agencies are found to enjoy a preferred narrative position in the police mythography. Finally, chapter 7 examines how the ODMP functions as the platform for the creation of not only an imagined community and virtual community but a police nation whose international constituency is connected through the solidarity of digitized death stories administrated by the ODMP. The dissertation draws on a number of disparate and interdisciplinary theorists. These include Benedict Anderson, Jacques Ellul, and Richard Slotkin, as well as Marita Sturken’s postulates on “kitschification,” as I argue that standardized funerary merchandising is integral to denoting membership in the police nation, as well as subscription to its myth.