Trials of the self

Murder, mayhem and the remaking of the mind, 1750–1830

By Elwin Hofman

Trials of the self


  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-5313-5
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Published Date: April 2021
  • BIC Category: Social & cultural history, HISTORY / Social History, LAW / Legal History, HISTORY / Modern / 19th Century, HISTORY / Modern / 18th Century, HISTORY / Europe / Western, Humanities / European history, Humanities / Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900, Humanities / Social & cultural history, Legal History, Early Modern History, History, Early 19th century c 1800 to c 1850, Later 18th century c 1750 to c 1799, European history, Legal history, Modern History
  • Series: Studies in Early Modern European History


This highly original study brings together the disparate histories of murder and enlightenment, prostitution and the cult of nature, sodomy and sentimentalism in order to retell the story of the making of the modern self. It suggests that the history of the self needs to attend more to its class dimensions, and puts this insight into practice by examining the influence of the criminal courts in spreading and negotiating changing ideas of the self. Using criminal interrogations and witness statements, Trials of the self shows that an increasing stress on psychological depth in the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was not only important for elites, but also for common and illiterate people - sometimes even more so.


How to do the history of the self: an introduction
1 The self in court: procedures of conscience and confession
2 Making reasonable selves: self-defence, honour and philosophical suicide
3 Losing your self: magic, madness and other ways of losing control
4 The tears of a killer: practicing sentimentalism and romanticism in criminal court
5 The ambiguities of nature: self-talk as a challenge and as an opportunity
Conclusion: fragments of a history of the self


Elwin Hofman is a postdoctoral researcher at Research Foundation - Flanders, KU Leuven

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