Rachel Q. Welsh F'19

Rachel Q. Welsh
Doctoral Candidate
History
New York University

Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships 2019
Doctoral Candidate
History
New York University
Proof in the Body: Ordeal, Justice, and the Physical Manifestation of Proof in Medieval Iberia, ca. 1050-1300

Local municipal law in medieval Iberia occasionally sought proof directly from the accused's body, forcing women accused of certain secretive, bodily crimes to prove themselves by carrying a red-hot iron. This dissertation analyzes this judicial ordeal—a physical test in which God was believed to intervene miraculously to reveal guilt or innocence—and examines why it was considered an effective form of proof and how it produced meaning. More broadly, this dissertation argues for ordeal in Iberia as functionally distinct from ordeal in northern Europe, as it operated as a civic rather than religious ritual. This project connects scholarship on gender, ritual, the body, and medieval proof and legal procedure, bringing a cultural and social-historical approach to legal history.