Medical Expertise, Bodies, and the Law in Early Modern Courts

De Renzi, Silvia (2007). Medical Expertise, Bodies, and the Law in Early Modern Courts. Isis, 98(2) pp. 315–322.



Going beyond Enlightenment critiques of ancien régime justice, historians are now exploring its distinctive procedures; courtrooms have become a fundamental site for recapturing early modern political and social dynamics. Historians of science and medicine can benefit too. Serving as expert witnesses was prominent among the activities of medical practitioners; and, especially in Continental Europe, natural and medical knowledge was routinely presented and contested in tribunals. This essay aims to promote further research on the resulting wealth of manuscript and printed sources that give access to crucial social and epistemological issues. The voices of different actors, preserved in trial records, can extend our histories of the body. The relations among medical practitioners, and with the legal authorities, provide a hitherto neglected context within which to understand contemporary epistemological debates, from claims and challenges to expertise to the definition and production of evidence, including the status of signs, personal observation, and tests.

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