Harnessing the power of the criminal corpse

Project: Research

Project Details


he criminal corpse, even when life had left the body, was still a powerful object. It had social and symbolic power, medicinal, judicial, political and scientific power. Started in 2011 and generously funded by the Wellcome Trust, this five-year project explores the criminal corpse from the disciplines of archaeology, medical and criminal history, folklore, literature and philosophy. It will reveal the ways in which the power of the criminal corpse was harnessed, by whom, and to what ends in Britain between the late seventeenth and twentieth centuries.

There is a long history of the medical use of 'criminal corpses'. The bodies of executed malefactors held particular potency in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While several of the magico-medical uses of criminal corpses have received attention by historians, folklorists, and anthropologists, they have never been studied together to reach a deeper understanding of the significance of the medical potency of the criminal corpse. Furthermore, the subject has been little studied by historians beyond the early modern period. Led By Professor Owen Davies, Strand 4 will investigate how the curative powers of the criminal corpse were harnessed in the historiographically-neglected period 1700-1900.
Effective start/end date1/10/1130/09/14


  • Wellcome: £115,047.00


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