The public execution of criminals was a familiar ritual of early modern European society. This presentation, however, examines the much rarer practice of ordering that a criminal’s house be ritually demolished and, in many cases, replaced by a monument intended simultaneously to obliterate and to perpetuate the memory of the criminal and his deed. Infrequent as it was, ritualized house-destruction was remarkably widespread in geographical terms: it was undertaken at various times between 1520 and 1760 in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal. This striking form of criminal punishment raises questions about how physical space could be reconfigured to reinforce authority and reshape historical memory in the political cultures of early modern Europe.
Christopher R. Friedrichs is a professor of history at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He is a specialist in the social and political history of cities in early modern Europe. His publications include four books: Urban Society in an Age of War: Nördlingen, 1580-1720 (1979); The Early Modern City, 1450-1750 (1995); Urban Politics in Early Modern Europe (2000); and A Jewish Youth in Dresden: The Diary of Louis Lesser, 1833-1837 (2011). In the fall of 2003 he spent three months as a visitor to the University of Delhi under the auspices of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute.
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