Historical Café 12th of November 2014: A conversation with Guy Geltner and Pieter Spierenburg

A conversation with Pieter Spierenburg and Guy Geltner about the historical relationship between the themes body, violence, and punishment. Which role do body and the violent acts to which it can be subjected play in the practice of punishment? How comparable are different historical periods in this regard? Can any overarching trends be discerned? And how have different periods viewed this practice?

9 p.m. – The long history of bodily punishment: discussion with Guy Geltner and Pieter Spierenburg

In the oldest known legal text, composed by the Sumerian ruler Ur-Nammu (2112-2095 BC), there is mention of punishing acts of violence. For fracturing someone’s skull during a fight, for example, the offender would be punished with 180 lashes of the whip. In 1996, the U.S. American state of California passed a controversial law, which determined that sexual offenders could be punished with chemical castration. Even though 4000 years and 12,000 km separate these practices from each other, they are closely connected by the themes of body, violence, and punishment. Not only were both laws aimed at punishing those who had committed acts of physical violence, but the punishment was in both cases aimed at the body of the offenders themselves.

Pieter Spierenburg (1948) is emeritus professor of historical criminology at the Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam. He has published extensively on the history of crime and punishment and on the history of culture and mentality. His recently published book Violence and pu


nishment: Civilizing the body through time (2013) will be available for purchase tonight.

Guy Geltner is professor of medieval history at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on a wide range of subjects (prisons, mendicant orders, health, and corruption) in different historic contexts. His latest book, Flogging others: Corporal punishment and cult

ural identity from Antiquity to the present (2014) will be available tonight.

Host: Frans Camphuijsen