The penalty of death? New research to examine treatment of the criminal corpse

Posted by hct16 at Oct 31, 2012 03:30 PM |
Academics investigate the fate of executed criminals from 17th to 19th centuries
The penalty of death? New research to examine treatment of the criminal corpse

Professor Sarah Tarlow

A new major research programme bringing University of Leicester academics in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, and the School of Historical Studies together with expertise from the University of Hertfordshire, will examine the fate of the corpses of executed criminals.

Between 1752 and 1832 the bodies of executed murderers were legally denied burial in consecrated ground. Instead they were donated for anatomical dissection or ‘hung in chains’ (displayed in a gibbet).

The five year project, supported by the Wellcome Trust with a grant for nearly a million pounds, uses the criminal corpse as a focal point from which the team can spin out to explore the many ways that human bodies were understood in the period between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries, and how attitudes that took shape at that time continue to affect our ambivalent feelings about how the dead should be treated.

Professor Sarah Tarlow, an archaeologist at the University and leader of the team said that this is a key period in the development of modern medical knowledge, where the inside of the body was carefully explored and described by anatomists.

The team will be producing a number of academic publications but will also be setting up a website to host an online exhibition and keeping a blog of their findings and ideas as the project gets underway.