The Modern Invention of the Medieval Executioner
Lecture by Joel Harrington
Given at Vanderbilt University on May 7, 2015
We all know the hooded, ominous figure of the medieval hangman, but in fact that image owes much more to nineteenth-century imaginations than to any historical reality. After a brief description of a real sixteenth-century German executioner, based on his personal journal of forty-five years, this lecture will explore the legal, artistic, and literary origins of one of the modern age’s most recognizable stereotypes, as well as how this has helped distort our common understanding of the European Middle Ages. This lecture will explore this topic as told in part in Harrington’s most recent book, The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Sixteenth Century (Picador, 2014).
Joel F. Harrington is Centennial Professor and Chair of the Department of History. He as published widely on various topics in social, legal, and religious history, particularly dealing with Germany during the early modern era (ca. 1450-1750). Projects currently underway include a study of the late medieval mystic Meister Eckhart and a comparison of the early modern prosecution of infanticide and witchcraft. Professor Harrington has taught a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses at Vanderbilt since his arrival in 1989, including the history of Christian traditions, Reformation Europe, religion and the occult in early modern Europe, and early modern social history. From 2004-2011 he served as Vanderbilt’s first senior international officer (Associate Provost for Global Strategy), a full-time administrative position, and before that, from 2000-2004, he was Director of the Center for European Studies.