Talk: Making the (Criminal) Body

This noticed reminded me of my Monday Series on the Criminalized Body, so, with apologizes for the last minuteness (I only saw the post this morning), this is for those of you in London interested in similar themes…

Damaging the Body Seminar Series
The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, UCL, 5th Floor, 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE

Monday May 9th 2011, 6pm
Marking the (Criminal) Body: Degeneration and Tattooing in Nineteenth Century France
Gemma Angel MPhil/PhD
History of Art University College London

This paper will present aspects of my current PhD research into the collection of 300 preserved tattooed skins held by the Wellcome Collection in their storage archives at Blythe House, London. Purchased in 1929 by Peter Johnston-Saint on behalf of Henry Wellcome from a Parisian osteologist, these objects date from 1850-1920. The collection is exemplary with respect to its size and coherence. Along with comparable collections held in European museums, it demonstrates the importance of collections of human remains for the study of the material culture of medicine. The practice of preparing and collecting tattoos was closely related to the scientific interest in tattooing during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Tattoos played a significant role in medico-legal research across a wide range of disciplines, notably forensic medicine, anthropology, psychiatry and dermatology. The tattoo as a surface signifier was frequently read by early criminologists as a kind of peculiar ‘social symptom’ of underlying criminal tendency. Whilst the writings of Cesare Lombroso are well-known on this subject, the work of his French contemporary and intellectual rival Alexandre Lacassagne has received comparatively less scholarly attention. Lacassagne made significant contributions to the emerging field of forensic science, and was known particularly as a specialist of toxicology. He also took a personal interest in tattooing, carrying out extensive research into the tattoos of prison populations. In contrast to Lombroso’s theories of biological atavism, Lacassagne was influenced by theories of dégénérescence, which emphasized the social etiology of crime. Thus tattoos came to represent a significant indicator of both degeneration and criminality within a ‘toxic’ social milieu. Forthcoming Lectures: Tuesday 31 May, 6pm Sander Gilman ‘Stand Up Straight’: Posture and the Meanings Attributed to the Upright Body


3 thoughts on “Talk: Making the (Criminal) Body

  1. I’m also really interested in seeing these 300 preserved tattoo skins. How do you even get permission to obtain them in the first place?

    Dammnit! Even more reason for the growing number of reasons why I should just pack my bags and move to London!

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