Cultural History Seminar and Descartes Centre Colloquium with Heather Wolffram (University of Canterbury)

Portret Heather Wolffram
Heather Wolffram

Emotional Experts? Medico-Legalists, Emotions and Expertise in Germany, c. 1900-1945

In his 1895 textbook of forensic medicine, the German medico-legalist Fritz Strassmann cautioned his colleagues to ensure that the oral opinions they gave in court were ‘purely objective, fact based and dispassionate’, criticising those experts who decorated their remarks with expressions such as ‘uncaring mother’ or ‘inhuman murderer’. Strassmann’s admonition to avoid emotion provides a glimpse of the ‘emotional regime’ prevalent in German forensic medicine at the turn of the century that sought to regulate medico-legal emotions. But it also suggests that, in practice, some medico-legalists responded emotionally to their work or mobilised the language of emotion for effect. 

This paper provides the early findings of a project that uses methods and insights derived from the history of the emotions, to analyse the evolution of professional culture among German medico-legalists during the Imperial, Weimar and National Socialist eras. The project’s aim is to explore the behavioural and emotional expectations for and actual practice of those engaged in forensic medicine at key professional sites, including the crime scene, the mortuary and the courtroom, and to assess how these expectations and practices were impacted by changing legal, political and scientific contexts.

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Sweelinckzaal (0.05) at Drift 21
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Registration is highly appreciated. Please send an email to Mette Bruinsma at