mardi 12 avril 2016

L'arsenic au 19e siècle

Chemistry, Medicine and Crime: Arsenic in Nineteenth-Century France

José Ramón Bertomeu-Sánchez (Université de Valence, Espagne/IHMC)

Jeudi 14 avril 2016

Le séminaire se tiendra de 14h à 17h au Centre Alexandre Koyré (27, rue Damesme, 75013 Paris, salle de séminaire, 5e étage)

“The paper reviews the movement of poisons across different popular, medical and legal cultures during the 1830s and 1840s in France. Poisons such as arsenic were common materials employed in everyday life for different purposes in agriculture and industry. They were also frequent protagonists in popular literature, folk tales, theater plays, and other forms of popular culture. At the same time, they were both objects and tools of inquiry in medicine and science. From a legal point of view, poisons were criminal tools for performing silent murders, which were very difficult to prove in court. The testimony of regular witnesses was useless due to the secret nature of poisoning crimes, so judges frequently requested the advice of experts in medicine and chemical analysis. Prompted by unexpected situations and puzzling questions, nineteenth-century toxicological research developed along with criminal investigations during poisoning trials. Apart from its criminal uses, arsenic was employed in many other activities in nineteenth-century France: wallpaper pigment, embalming, agriculture, rat poison, veterinary treatments, medical drugs, etc. I follow the traces of arsenic in these different contexts in the first half of the nineteenth-century in France. I remark on its elusive nature regarding color, taste and smell and the entanglement between this ambiguous identity of arsenic and the different methods employed for detecting mineral poisons during the 1830s. These methods provided different visual and material forms of proof, which were employed for several purposes in laboratories, academies, salons and courtrooms. Attention is paid to the new high-sensitivity chemical techniques such as the Marsh test. I also highlight the persistence of old methods, which were employed in different contexts, sometimes for different purposes. Finally, I describe how expert controversies emerged from poisoning trials and their circulation in newspapers, literature and other forms of popular culture. I show that these movements were multidirectional and involved new challenges for toxicologists in courts.”

Discutante, Nathalie Jas (INRA/RiTME)

Marie Thébaud-Sorger (CNRS/CAK):
Patrice Bret (CAK):

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