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Abstracts: Cultures of Expertise

Cathy McClive (University of Durham)
Witnessing of the Hands’ and the Construction of the Corpus Delicti: Surgeons as Medico-Legal Experts in Eighteenth-Century Lyon


This paper looks at the role and significance of touch in French legal medicine using surgical testimonies from cases tried at the civil and criminal courts of Lyon across the eighteenth century. In the wider medical world physical auscultation was an activity which had long been associated with the low-status artisanal craft of surgery. However, in the context of legal medicine and the space of the judicial arena, looking at and touching (voir et visiter) the corpus delicti took on new significance and prestige. First-hand observation of the corpus delicti by medico-legal experts (often surgeons) was a means of determining the manifest signs of a crime and refining the version of events offered by the victim and witness testimony. By touching, prodding, poking and measuring the signs of violence, violation, birth and death on the bodies of victims and defendants, surgeons carved out new roles for themselves as medico-legal experts and contributed to a growing specialism. As such, careful and precise physical examination became an integral part of French legal medicine which rose in scope and prestige from the sixteenth century onwards. However, looking and touching in French legal medicine were not without difficulties or controversies. The necessity of refining the victim’s narrative overrode certain taboos and anxieties, but the morality and gravity of medical experts conducting such physical examinations was stressed by both medical and legal practitioners. The construction of the corpus delicti, uncovering the truth of the crime and perhaps ultimately rendering justice depended to a large extent on the precision and scrutiny of the physical examination. In this context social codes of prudery, sensibility and patronage were temporarily suspended and the body, rather than the story of the victim was the primary object of the medical expert’s gaze and hands.


Kelly Whitmer (Max Planck Institute of the History of Science, Berlin)
Models and Experts: Observing Solomon’s Temple in Early Eighteenth- Century Halle


In a general sense my paper is about the relationship between theology, modeling practices and the cultivation of scientific expertise in eighteenth- century Germany. More specifically, it is about how one pastor trained in the mathematical sciences built and deployed an usually large wooden model of Solomon's Temple to make his efforts to reconcile myriad forms of expertise visible to others. In keeping with the seventeenth-century turn towards collective empiricism and new information technologies, this pastor argued that the model was a special kind of epistemic thing. He believed it helped generate superior forms of experience and new modes of intuitive comprehension. The paper considers the techniques this town patriarch used in order to effectively combine competing representations of the ancient Temple by theologians from different confessional backgrounds into a single, universal infrastructure that young people could internalize (through visual exercise) and apply in the world.