Born and raised in Canada, Sara Beam received her B.A. from McGill University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently an associate professor of History at the University of Victoria (Canada). Her research examines the social and cultural history of early modern Europe (1400-1800), and focuses in particular on social practices that reveal the limits of civil rights in the pre-modern world. She has published extensively about popular culture and the politics of satirical theater, including a prize-winning monograph entitled Laughing Matters: Farce and the Making of Absolutism in France (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007). Her current research focuses on the legal practice of judicial torture, and more specifically on its decline, as a means to understand how the concept of civil society emerged in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe.
Programme EURIAS à l’IEA de Paris
Contemporary discussions in the media of torture testify to the moral and political fault lines that “enhanced interrogation techniques” can trigger. Exploring how torture has been applied in the past and, more importantly, examining when authorities _resist_ its application can thus yield knowledge that is both practical and revealing. This project examines a particular turning point in Western European history when the use of torture was reevaluated and substantially curtailed: the
century between 1550 and 1650.
In the late eighteenth century, many European governments formally outlawed torture, largely as a response to the humanitarian critiques of Enlightenment philosophers. But the practical disengagement from this method of interrogation was well underway by the middle of the seventeenth century, when judges across Western Europe became more hesitant to use it – a shift overlooked, until recently, by historians. By showing that attitudes to torture have always been
shaped by a myriad of practical considerations, this project joins the contemporary debate about its use today. During my time at the IAS Paris, my efforts will focus on a microhistory of torture in Reformation Geneva and a comparative study of torture across Western Europe.