From its inception in the mid-twentieth century, the field of death studies has been challenged by the popular idea that both death and grief have become a new problem in the human experience. Yet, it was only in the seventies that the immediate knowledge about the past among sociologists and psychologists, who were denouncing the loss of mourning rituals, was proved right by historical evidence. With his social history of death, published in 1974 and 1981 under the titles Western Attitudes towards Death and The Hour of Our Death, the French historian Philippe Ariès (1914-1984) supported the pessimistic belief among journalists, intellectuals, and scholars alike, that something profound had been lost.
In his historical accounts covering the last 1,500 years, death indeed ended up being ‘invisible’ and ‘wild’, in contrast to its earlier ‘public’ and ‘tamed’ counterpart. Sorting out the chaos of the past, Ariès’ vivid and comprehensive narrative of shifting attitudes towards death inspires many researchers to this day. However, since both the discipline of history, and the social context of dying and bereavement have changed after his death in 1984, Ariès’ history of death has recently also been criticized and supplemented.