From dissecting table to courtroom. The professionalisation of medico-legal expertise in the early modern County of Flanders, 16th-18th centuries

Van snijtafel naar rechtszaal. De professionalisering van medico-legale expertise in het vroegmoderne graafschap Vlaanderen, 16de-18de eeuw
Start - End 
2017 - 2021 (ongoing)
Department of History
Research Focus 



Because of the major contributions of towering figures such as Andreas Vesalius and Jan Palfijn to early modern medical doctrine and practice, historians of the Habsburg Netherlands could rightly claim an important role for this region in the historiography on the development of the medical profession. The study of the development and professionalisation of medical expertise within a forensic context, however, largely remains unexplored terrain. Taking the County of Flanders as its geographical focus, this research project aims to analyse and explain a number of quantitative and qualitative developments regarding the impact of medical expertise on the administration of criminal justice in the early modern Habsburg Netherlands. More specifically, attention will be devoted to statutory provisions concerning the consultation of medical expertise in criminal proceedings, developments in forensic practices, and the impact of medico-legal observations on judicial decision-making. This objective will primarily be achieved through a study of the form and content of medico-legal reports produced by Flemish medical practitioners (such as surgeons, apothecaries, midwives, and physicians) who were required to provide expert testimony to the legal authorities in cases of suspicious death, assault, and rape, or who were asked to attest to the alleged insanity of suspects. In order to present an analysis that is as multi-faceted and nuanced as possible, evidence from a wide range of law courts on different institutional levels (provincial versus local) and with varying territorial jurisdictions (urban versus rural) will be considered.



Phd Student(s)