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Preserving the corpse

Le cadavre préservé

Knowledge and practices on the preservation and exhibition of the dead body (16th-20th century)

Savoirs et pratiques autour de la conservation et l’exposition du corps mort (XVIe-XXe siècle)

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Published on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 by Rémi Boivin

Summary

This conference is intended for scholars interested in the history of the dead body. The objective is to bring together recognized experts and young researchers in the field around a specific problem: the knowledge and practices concerning the preservation and exhibition of the corpse. Following recent historiography, we have selected a relatively wide time frame. In fact, the Renaissance and the nineteenth century are now considered as two critical periods in the long process of the «medicalization» of the body, namely the way in which medical knowledge came to gain a leading position compared to other knowledge – especially religious – in the definition of the status of the body. From this point, scientific knowledge as well as knowledge related to crafts and trades overlap in their conceptions of the corpse, creating a permanent tension between different dimensions that the conference intends to analyze and problematize.

Announcement

Argument

This conference is intended for scholars interested in the history of the dead body. The objective is to bring together recognized experts and young researchers in the field around a specific problem: the knowledge and practices concerning the preservation and exhibition of the corpse. Following recent historiography, we have selected a relatively wide time frame. In fact, the Renaissance and the nineteenth century are now considered as two critical periods in the long process of the «medicalization» of the body, namely the way in which medical knowledge came to gain a leading position compared to other knowledge – especially religious – in the definition of the status of the body. However, handling the dead body is an activity that lies at the intersections of scientific, religious, and social knowledge and techniques. Historical Anthropology presents the dead body as simultaneously attractive and repulsive, primarily due to the contaminative features assigned to the rotting corpse by European societies. This ambivalent condition, very ancient in its lineage, had to be reconciled with the Christian conception of the dead body, which focused on the resurrection at the end of time. From this point, scientific knowledge as well as knowledge related to crafts and trades overlap in their conceptions of the corpse, creating a permanent tension between different dimensions that the conference intends to analyze and problematize.

This conference is intended for scholars interested in the history of the dead body, specifically the knowledge and practices concerning the preservation and exhibition of the corpse. During the last ten years, the history of the dead body has officially entered into European and Anglo-American historiography. Among the various aspects considered, the manipulation of the corpse for scientific reasons has certainly been the subject most considered by scholars, including anatomical dissections and forensic autopsies from the Medieval to Modern ages. In both cases, the techniques result primarily from medical science and surgical practice, but they also involve religious, social and legal knowledges, producing conflict especially between medical and non-medical knowledge. Therefore, the most recent research verifies the various levels of interaction between these dimensions and their impact on manipulation techniques over time.

Manipulations concerning the conservation and preservation of dead bodies have attracted less attention. It is well known that ancient societies invented techniques to preserve bodies from decomposition. However, the knowledge that aided in these developments, in addition to the practices themselves, are a blind spot of historical research. It is not always clear to historians why dead bodies were conserved: although there have been several investigations into the bodily presentations of kings during their funerals, very little attention has been given to the process of preserving corpses for the purposes of forensic identification. Embalming techniques and their social effects remain little explored, especially during their peak in the nineteenth century. Methods for analyzing the natural preservation of corpses, especially those deployed by the Catholic Church to verify the supposed miraculous bodies of saints, have also been neglected.

The handling of dead bodies is an activity at the intersections of scientific, religious and social knowledge and techniques. Within the realm of Historical Anthropology, the dead body is at once attractive and repulsive. This ambivalence speaks to the perception of the rotting corpse as contaminative within the context of European society. Furthermore, these opposing views needed to be reconciled with a Christian notion of the dead body, which was closely tied to the concept of the Resurrection.  Permanent tension was created by the differing conceptions of the corpse furnished by the scientific and skilled labor fields. Therefore, our objective is to bring together recognized experts and young researchers around a specific problem of the history of the body. We invite submissions that investigate the following problems:

  • theory and practice of embalming;
  • methods for conserving parts of the human anatomy;
  • forensics medicine;
  • medical tests during canonization procedures;
  • beliefs and traditional knowledge about the manipulation of the corpse;
  • actors involved in these manipulations and the physical spaces where they operated;

The pan-European focus of this conference underscores the circulation of methods and practices throughout the continental area. This is not only a way to understand the links between knowledge produced in a specific context and knowledge elaborated elsewhere, but also the possibility of whether or not common reflection around this topic were sought.

Submission guidelines

Proposals will be examinated by the scientific board, composed by faceless experts' committe

The deadline for submitting proposals (not more than 500 words) is 10 April 2014.

  • Conference dates : 19th-20th September 2014.
  • Place : Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne.

The official languages of the conference will be French and English.

Places

  • Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
    Paris, France (75)

Date(s)

  • Thursday, April 10, 2014

Keywords

  • cadavre, corps mort, préservation

Contact(s)

  • Vincent Denis
    courriel : vjdenis2 [at] yahoo [dot] fr
  • Diego Carnevale
    courriel : diego [dot] carnevale [at] hotmail [dot] it

Information source

  • Diego Carnevale
    courriel : diego [dot] carnevale [at] hotmail [dot] it

To cite this announcement

« Preserving the corpse », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, February 26, 2014, https://calenda.org/277660

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