Strategies of Correction: Corporal Punishment in the Carolingian Empire, 742-900

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My dissertation is a political and cultural history of corporal punishment in the Carolingian empire. I examine the shape and significance of discourses and representations of corporal punishment across various modes of ecclesiastical, royal, and monastic governance. I contextualize these discourses within contemporary understandings of power as a shared moral ministry as explored by scholars like Mayke De Jong. Within this concept of political power as a shared ministry, I argue that Carolingian corporal punishment was a communicative, symbolic that use the body of the condemned to express authority in a concrete sense. Physical punishment both materialized abstract discourses abstract about the responsibilities and prerogatives of official authority and provided ruling elites with a means to make this power visible to and felt by non-elites. Drawing upon the work of penal historians and theorists like Michel Foucault, Guy Gelter, and Philip Smith, I understand physical punishment as a multivalent phenomenon which performs various social and cultural functions. Disciplinary violence and the punitive alteration of the body functioned as a public spectacle which indexes an offender’s transgressive otherness through her or his punished body while making visible and repairing a society’s normative boundaries. In the early Middle Ages, these punitive spectacles further drew upon close cultural associations between personal honor and parts of the human body such as the skin, hair, and face in order to conspicuously shame and humiliate. I further contend that in Carolingian thought and normative practice, the spectacular dimensions of corporal punishment were influenced by and at odds with contemporary understandings of punishment, drawn from religious and monastic discourses, as a personally curative and didactic phenomenon. I ultimately argue that the interactions and tensions between these two modes reveal a shared Carolingian punitive imaginary through which ruling elites conceived of ways in which power and authority could be physically felt and expressed through the bodies of offenders against the moral order they saw themselves as responsible for enforcing.

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Law; Carolingian; Early Medieval History; Punishment; Medieval history


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Falk, Oren

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Rebillard, Eric
Anderson, Benjamin William

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Ph. D., History

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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