In both popular and scholarly appreciations of the pre/modern divide, corporal punishment epitomizes the uncivilized past, the prison its hopeful future. Focusing on a transitional era–the late Middle Ages and Early modernity–this talk challenges an entrenched narrative of modernization by interrogating the concept of corporal punishment and examining written and material evidence for its use in both periods. It will be argued that ameliorist views regarding the history of punishment, in the sense that recourse to corporal punishment must have generally declined over time, are untenable. Beyond establishing a better-grounded trajectory, however, problematizing corporal punishment from a social and religious perspective can help us reach a more nuanced understanding of pain in punishment, and observe whether physical pain is an adequate proxy to establishing brutalization.
Guy Geltner (Amsterdam) is Professor of Medieval History at the University of Amsterdam. Professor Geltner studied at the Hebrew University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, before earning a PhD in history from Princeton University in 2006. After a four-year stint at Oxford he moved to the University of Amsterdam. His research is mainly based on materials excavated from Italian archives, and concerns crime and punishment, the mendicant orders, and (increasingly) urban public health–in all cases working predominantly in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. He strives to work across modern fields and disciplines, especially as a means to challenge some of the more common assumptions about the boundaries between pre/modernity. His publications include Flogging Others: Corporal Punishment and Cultural Identity from Antiquity to the Present (Amsterdam, 2014), The Making of Medieval Antifraternalism: Polemic, Violence, Deviance, and Remembrance (Oxford, 2012), Defenders and Critics of Franciscan Life, co-edited with Michael F. Cusato (Leiden, 2009), The Medieval Prison: A Social History (Princeton, 2008), and De Periculis Novissimorum Temporum (Leuven, 2008).
Co-sponsored by the Department of History, the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, and the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto.