Torture Research

General Histories of Torture

There are three essential references for the historical study of torture (Langbein 1977, Peters 1996, Ruthven 1978). Peters (1996) and Ruthven (1978) are both broad overview histories of torture, but they focus on different areas. Peters has some focus on torture in non-Western societies. Ruthven focuses more on Europe, but has more than Peters on torture of heretics and witches, political torture by 19th century governments, and torture by European authorities against colonial subjects.

Langbein (1977) focuses on how changes in legal standards of proof explain the rise of torture in the late middle ages, its decline in the early modern period, and the lack of torture in England. To protect defendants against false accusations, Continental law established an extremely high standard of proof for guilt: either the testimony of two eyewitnesses to the crime, or a confession. This standard of proof had the ironic result of encouraging torture, as authorities who had strong circumstantial evidence used torture to force a confession from defendants who they were sure were guilty. In England, jury trial instead of the high standard of proof protected defendants from false accusations, and torture never became part of the law, except for a brief period.

Langbein, John H. 1977. Torture and the Law of Proof: Europe and England in the Ancien Regime. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Peters, Edward. 1996. Torture: Expanded Edition. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Ruthven, Malise. 1978. Torture: The Grand Conspiracy. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.


Written by tortureresearch

January 27, 2010 at 7:39 pm

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