Article ID: CBB051869537

The Unfailing Machine: Mechanical Arts, Sentimental Publics and the Guillotine in Revolutionary France (2017)


This article explores how the pre-eminent public psychology of the French Revolution – sentimentalism – shaped the necessity, understanding and construction of its most iconic public machine. The guillotine provided a solution to the problem of public executions in an age of both sentiment and reason. It was designed to rationalize punishment and make it more humane; but it was also designed to guard against the psychological effects of older, more variable and unpredictable methods of public execution on a sentimental public. That public, contemporaries argued, required executions performed by an unfailing technology. Rather than focus on the role of the guillotine after 1793, the article explores how the implacable mechanical action that helped produce the Reign of Terror and multiply the cadavers of medical science was demanded by the guillotine’s origins as a sentimental machine.

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Authors & Contributors
Silvano, Giovanni
Forrest, Alan
Crook, Malcolm
Doyle, William
Mason, Haydn
McMillan, James
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
French History
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Perspectives on Science
HOST: Journal of History of Science and Technology
Franco Angeli
Harvard University Press
Cambridge University Press
Northwestern University
French Revolution of 1789
Science and politics
Science and society
Hospitals and clinics
Public health
Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Antoine Pierre de Monet de
Peiresc, Nicolas Claude Fabri de
Lukács, György
Tocqueville, Alexis de
Flaubert, Achille-Cléophas (1784-1846)
Lavoisier, Marie-Anne Paulze
Time Periods
18th century
19th century
20th century
17th century
Paris (France)
Great Britain
Académie des Sciences, Paris
Académie Royale des Sciences (France)

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