History lecture focuses on execution

Posted on Mar 12 2014 - 10:10am by Guest Writer

By Taylor Lunka, Guest Writer

A 16th century journaling executioner was the focus of the 40th annual Walter C. Schnackenberg Memorial Lecture Wednesday.
Students, faculty, alumni and staff occupied almost every seat in Xavier 201 to listen to speaker Joel Harrington, professor of history at Vanderbilt University.

Harrington specializes in the history of Europe, specifically in the Reformation and early modern Germany.
His research interests lie in social history, children, family and marriage.

Professor Harrington’s most recent book, “The Faithful Executioner,” was published in 2012 and examines crime, punishment and ethics in early modern Germany. He began working on the book about four years ago.

The night’s lecture focused on Frantz Schmidt, a young 16th-century German executioner. Schmidt kept a journal for 45 years of stories and scenes of the executions he performed. In the early 1500s, sons followed in the footsteps of their father’s career path. At age 19, Schmidt began in the execution business helping his father.

Schmidt made sure he exuded “professionalism in execution,” Professor Harrington said in the lecture.

Execution methods in the 16th century ranged from drowning, to whipping and wheeling, and Schmidt performed all of these and more. In his journal, Schmidt described each execution, who was being executed and the reason for the execution.
Why or for whom Schmidt was writing remains a mystery.

Harrington’s interest in the subject began a decade ago when he came upon Schmidt’s journal.

“It’s an amazing source, and I thought to myself, ‘someone should do something with it,’” Harrington said.

The department of history at Pacific Lutheran University and the Schnackenberg family began the Walter C. Schnackenberg Memorial Lecture series in 1974.