South Historian Earns NEH Fellowship to Complete Book on Forensic Medicine

Posted on January 27, 2020
Thomas Becnel

Dr. Claire Cage, an associate professor of history at the University of South Alabama, will use a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to complete a book called “The Science of Proof: Forensic Medicine in Modern France.”

Modern fans of TV shows such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” will appreciate the French fascination with autopsies 200 years ago.

“The public in that time was very interested in the need for autopsies,” Cage said. “There was the morgue of Paris that became a public attraction with visitors of 20,000 per day because people were just interested in seeing a corpse up close.”

Cage’s NEH grant was announced earlier this month. The $60,000 fellowship will allow her to complete research in France and continue writing in Mobile. In the fall, she plans to teach a USA course on forensic history. Cage previously received a summer stipend from the NEH for her research. 

She has a knack for selecting intriguing topics in cultural history.

Her first book, published in 2015, was called “Unnatural Frenchmen: The Politics of Priestly Celibacy and Marriage, 1720-1815.” It examined arguments during the Enlightenment and revolutionary France over clerical celibacy, which radicals considered a crime against nature and state.

Cage began teaching at South in 2012. She has a particular interest in the role experts play in society.

“The forensic medicine of that time wasn’t exactly what we consider forensic medicine today, although some of the processes and aims involving autopsies were like those conducted today,” Cage said. “The book argues that the tensions between doctors’ uncertainty and confidence dominated the field of forensic medicine and that forensic medical expertise both bolstered and undermined the pursuit of justice.”

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