Shame and the Search for Rehabilitation

Pardoning Practices in Germany, 1870-1933

Timon de Groot (completed PhD Project, 2018)

Honour was an important notion in the German system of criminal justice during the Wilhelmine period and the Weimar Republic. In the courtroom one could defend one's own honour, for example in a defamation lawsuit, or one could be stripped of one’s honour as a punishment for crimes committed. Such punishment was formalised by the loss of civil ‘rights of honour’ (bürgerliche Ehrenrechte), which was one of the secondary sentences (Nebenstrafe) codified in the German criminal code. The execution of this punishment carried with it a dimension of shaming. Its aim was literally to degrade the offender.

This project intends to describe the emotional culture surrounding punishments of honour. It questions what emotional effects the sentences had on those convicted and whether these effects corresponded with the intended aims of the punishment. It will inquire into how people coped with the shame they were afflicted with, how they invented new ways of dealing with this loss of honour, and how they tried to rehabilitate themselves.

In order to analyse the search for rehabilitation, the project analyses requests for clemency, pardons, communication between lawyers, their clients and state officers, along with newspaper articles and articles in legal journals. The goal is to draw out the implicit rules governing the search for rehabilitation and how they were contested over time. Additionally, the project will look at how the expression of shame was connected to publicly held conceptions of moral responsibility and personal identity, inquiring into how the expression of shame shifted over time due to changes in Germany’s legal and political system.

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