The Powerful Corpse: English Executions During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

An illustrated lecture with Dr. Sarah Tarlow, Professor of Historical Archaeology at the University of Leicester, England


Date: Friday, September 28th

Time: 7:30pm

Admission: $12

Presented by Atlas Obscura

By the middle of the eighteenth century in England, people could be executed for damaging the banks of a canal or sending poison pen letters. In response to this runaway punishment inflation, the Murder Act of 1752 specified that those convicted of really serious crimes should have their sentence augmented by a post-mortem element: they were to be denied burial until they had first been dissected by anatomists or left to rot in a gibbet cage. In this talk, Sarah Tarlow will examine the power of the criminal corpse through its journey from the gallows, where the touch of a dead man’s hand could be used to cure disease, through the weird geography of its dissection or ‘hanging in chains’, to its eventual deposition in a grave, a medical museum or a cabinet of curiosities.

Sarah Tarlow is Professor of Historical Archaeology at the University of Leicester, England. She is the author of several books including Ritual, Belief and the Body in Post-Medieval Britain and Ireland (2011) and is currently leading the interdisciplinary research project ‘Harnessing the Power of the Ciminal Corpse’.

This is part of the “Atlas Obscura Speakers” series of talks at Observatory.


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