Modern Languages

Wellcome Trust award for Larry Duffy

11 March 2015

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Dr Larry Duffy from the Department of Modern Languages has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Small Grant in the Medical Humanities for his research project ‘Pharmacy, Toxicology and the Incorporation of Disciplinary Power in France, 1830-1852′.

In French philosopher Michel Foucault’s account of the rise of psychiatry in nineteenth-century France, medicine consolidated its professional authority partly through involvement in criminal cases where expert opinion on suspects’ (in)sanity was sought, enhancing its power via the imbrication of psychiatry – a key element of an emerging forensic medicine – in the mechanisms of the legal system.

Larry's project hypothesises and investigates a contemporaneous, analagous process whereby another profession, pharmacy, established its authority through the rising discipline of toxicology – another key forensic field like psychiatry. It will do so by analysing materials (held mainly in Paris) concerning trials for poisoning and malpractice (specifically, ‘false remedies’) in which the leading toxicologist Mathieu Orfila (1787-1853), a pharmacist and Dean of the Paris Faculty of Medicine, had an influential role as expert witness, as, significantly, he had also in insanity cases. It will contextualise these materials by reading them alongside medical treatises on forensic medicine and toxicology (themselves containing case histories) and other contemporary documents, including literary texts. The project will exploit discourse generated by Orfila’s pivotal presence within medicine and pharmacy as a privileged point of access to the workings of disciplinary and pharmaceutical power.

For more details of Wellcome Small Grants in the Medical Humanities, please see the webpage here:

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Last Updated: 13/05/2015