Blood typing, forensic culture and gender in a 1950s Scottish paternity case
This chapter discusses a paternity case in 1950s Scotland where a mother attempted to have her daughter declared legally illegitimate in order to gain custody from her former husband whom she claimed was not the child’s biological father; this claim was confirmed by blood group evidence. Legal commentators regard this case as unusual in that seemingly incontrovertible scientific evidence was rejected by the court. Blood group evidence which demonstrated conclusively that the putative father was not the child’s biological father, although accepted in the initial case, was subsequently rejected by the judges in the appeal hearing. In order to understand why apparently conclusive scientific evidence was rejected, the chapter considers broader cultural concerns alongside particular legal matters. These include the requirement for the mother to produce a high standard of proof (illegitimacy cases in mid-twentieth-century Scotland required proof beyond reasonable doubt) that the putative father was not the biological father and the strong presumption in Scots law that a man who married a woman after a child’s birth must be the child’s father. There was considerable variation in the acceptance of scientific findings in mid-twentieth-century Scottish civil and criminal courts. The closure which was apparently offered by forensic evidence was contingent on legal and cultural circumstances. The scientific objectivity of forensic evidence in paternity cases related to the use of blood grouping and views on marriage, the proper way to raise children, the moral character of the mother and legal standards for evidence. The role of gender is significant.
This chapter examines collecting as a domestically situated practice. It is divided into three sections, focusing in turn on collecting in the fields of natural history, scientific instruments and art, manuscripts and antiquities. Building on the theme of domestic accumulation, outlined in Chapter 1, the discussion here considers three main case studies of collectors. The first example looks at the epistolary networks that facilitated natural historical collecting, illustration and publishing. It shows that naturalists and collectors of divergent means and social standing were in contact with each other to further scientific objectives. The second case study is based on the astronomical instrument collection of Margaret, Lady Clive (1735–1817) and her letter-writing with her niece Margaret Maskelyne concerning this collection, its domestic significance and their shared interest in astronomy. The final example is of the MP and antiquarian collector, James Harris (1709–80), whose notebooks document the way his artefacts, prints and manuscripts were stored, under lock and key, in the rooms of his genteel home in Salisbury Close in England. Taking a subject matter that is strongly associated with the elite and the famous, this chapter underlines the accessibility of natural historical collecting. It also emphasises the way homes of vastly different scales encouraged the collecting of curious objects. Collecting was a domestic practice in this period and collections, large and small, were shaped by the affordances and demands of home.
Organising expertise in Norwegian forensic psychiatry, late nineteenth to early twentieth century
Svein Atle Skålevåg
This chapter discusses the legal and institutional changes in Norway in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that laid the foundation for Norwegian forensic psychiatry. Characteristic for the forensic psychiatric culture in Norway is a high degree of consensus, both among forensic psychiatrists and between psychiatric and legal professionals. Instances of open public conflict have been rare. The chapter suggests that this consensus was a characteristic feature for the entire twentieth century, but that there are indications that this consensus is foundering in the early twenty-first century. Key factors of the architecture of this culture were the fact that the courts rarely heard opposing expert opinions, the fact that experts regularly worked in pairs, and the establishment of a commission of forensic medicine that sought not only to control but also to homogenise the work of forensic experts. Also of great importance has been the consistent application of the ‘biological principle’ for criminal responsibility. This principle, according to which the law will specifically name mental states that qualify for legal exemption, has allowed for the forensic experts to at least nominally stay away from speculation about responsibility and gain authority by limiting its opinions to medical questions. The chapter analyses legal processes of the late nineteenth century in their legal and political context, and contrasts this with a reading of two cases from early twentieth-century forensic psychiatry.
A culture of curiosity illuminates the home as an environment uniquely conducive to scientific enquiry in the eighteenth-century British world. Drawing on diverse manuscript sources, from household accounts to life writing, Leonie Hannan shows that scientific practices grew from the conditions and labour of home. In doing so, her study challenges traditional assumptions about the ‘Enlightenment’ and illuminates a diverse population of eighteenth-century scientists. Collectively, they represent a vibrant culture of curiosity that has evaded the historian’s eye. Structured in three parts, the book begins with an examination of the home itself. The second part analyses a series of domestic practices through the lives of diarists, letter-writers, collectors, star-gazers and experimenters. The book culminates with an exploration of what scientific enquiry meant to these people and considers the ramifications of their activities for larger histories of intellectual life. The analysis reveals the way little-known scientists constructed their own investigative authority, staking claim to enquiry as a facet of personal identity. A culture of curiosity offers an intellectual history from below. The findings suggest that lower-status scientists were not just ignored, but their work was also misunderstood with far-reaching consequences. The book therefore argues for a decisive break with dualist framings of knowledge-making, which serve to distort the interpretation of intellectual culture at large. By rejecting the limiting associations of ‘domestic life’, this book re-imagines a culture of enquiry populated by apprentices and housewives as much as Fellows of the Royal Society.
The importance of ‘speaking witnesses’ in Dutch sexual crimes investigations and trials, 1930– 1960
"The historiography on the history of sexual violence has shown that the testimony of rape victims was subject to doubt. Historians of forensic science have diagnosed an increased reliance on physical evidence over ‘speaking witnesses’. This chapter argues that in Dutch forensic culture between 1930 and 1960, the evidence of ‘speaking witnesses’ continued to play a central role in sexual violence investigations, while physical evidence was nearly absent. The chapter contends with the fact that a large proportion of sexual violence cases were dismissed by the prosecutor. An examination of prosecutors’ records found that while a subsection of those dismissals might indeed relate to distrust in a victim’s credibility, such an explanation does not fit with what we know about the majority of those dismissals. An analysis of case files and verdicts of sex crimes cases tried at the Utrecht court between 1930 and 1960 shows that medical evidence was virtually absent. Instead, in all but one of these cases the victim’s testimony was accepted, while support was found in the confessions of suspects, or in the statements of third-party witnesses. This chapter classifies the forensic culture of the Netherlands in the period 1930–1960 – as regards sex crimes – as a ‘culture of testimony’, offering a partial explanation of the differences between the findings presented here and the existing literature. On the one hand, they may reflect shortcomings in the existing literature; on the other hand, the results must be understood as being specific to the forensic culture investigated.
This chapter compares how ‘crimes of passion’ were defined in law and prosecuted in practice in Russia and the Netherlands in the twentieth century. Taking the approach of ‘doing law’, which entails looking at justice as a process of negotiation involving many participants, the chapter aims to show that what a ‘crime of passion’ is, is not self-evident: it is continually debated and negotiated by multiple actors, such as the legislature, the judiciary and psychiatrists. Both in Russia and the Netherlands the image of ‘crimes of passion’ revolved around ‘othering’: these crimes were seen as typical of other countries or classes, thus confirming a certain self-image. The Soviet socialist discourse framed ‘capitalist’ jealousy – connected to private property and possessiveness – as its opposite. In the Netherlands, the ‘moderate’, ‘rational’ and ‘emancipated’ Dutch contrasted themselves with the passionate French and Italians who were more lenient towards perpetrators trying to uphold their honour. Comparing Russian and Dutch forensic cultures can inform us on the discrepancy between cultural-political images of a certain crime and forensic and legal practice. In the Netherlands, despite the claim that this country was not familiar with the crime of passion, in practice lawyers, prosecutors and psychiatrists regarded the pathology underlying this criminal behaviour as a serious diagnosis, potentially serving to mitigate the sentence of the (often male) perpetrator. In Russia, legal practice not only connected jealousy killings to ‘capitalist’ greed, but also to the offender’s illiteracy, lack of poor education or mental abnormalities.
The main focus of this chapter is on the experimental work of breeding silkworms, and the central examples include a postmistress in Kent, England, an apothecary in Pennsylvania and a range of other working and leisured women – all of whom conducted their experiments from home. An activity that sat at the juncture of naturalism and commercial interest, silkworm breeding was taken up by many women across Britain and Ireland in this period. Championed by learned societies, institutional records attest to widespread participation in this pursuit. This chapter offers detailed insight into how experimental work occupied domestic space. Firesides, the pigeon-hole of a cabinet, a garret windowsill and even a hat box were all put to service in the project of silkworm cultivation. The individuals discussed here, most especially women with responsibility for the labour of home (by hand or order), were well positioned to experiment with silkworm rearing in terms of their skills, schedules and command of household space and material culture. In their fascinating testimony, these silkworm experimenters describe not only their activities, but also their motivations and aspirations. Drawing on the archives and transactions of societies dedicated to the development of ‘useful knowledge’, accounts of silkworm breeding reveal the elaborate networks of knowledge exchange that operated through, but also beyond, eighteenth-century institutions.
At least since the eighteenth century, expert witnesses in English criminal trials have faced pressures to deliver their evidence in sufficiently certain terms. In some cases, however, experts provided lawyers, judges and juries with reasons for uncertainty and thereby introduced a degree of flexibility and discretion into the criminal law. The uncertainty in infanticide cases hardly ever stemmed from expert disagreement; rather, experts exerted ‘rectitude’ in refusing to say more than their knowledge warranted. This chapter focuses on two crucial periods in the development of infanticide law to further develop this argument on experts’ uncertainty. The first is the clarification in the 1830s of what it meant for a baby to be ‘born alive’. In a series of cases that served as legal precedents, the judges responded to medical uncertainty by formulating a legal question which in most cases made certainty on the expert’s part impossible. The second is in the years immediately before and after the Infanticide Act 1922. Even though this Act made the consequences of medical certainty and uncertainty much less dramatic, the same uncertainties continued to play a significant role in response to infanticide. In both episodes we can see the part that law plays in creating and using uncertainty in expert evidence. This refines and reinforces Dixon’s argument regarding the extent of the court’s receptivity to medical uncertainty and the scope it created for the jury to take into consideration social and economic factors, which in turn, allowed them to reach a merciful verdict.
This edited volume examines the performance of physicians, psychiatrists and other scientists as expert witnesses in modern European courts of law and police investigations. Its chapters discuss cases from criminal, civil and international law to parse the impact of forensic evidence and expertise in different European countries (Scotland, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, Portugal, Norway and the Netherlands) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They show how modern forensic science and technology was inextricably entangled with political ideology, gender norms, changes in the law and legal systems. New scientific ideas and technology, such as blood tests and DNA, helped develop forensic science, but did not necessarily lead to a straightforward acceptance of expertise in the courtroom. Discussing fascinating case studies, the chapters in this book highlight how the ideology of authoritarian and liberal regimes affected the practical enactment of forensic expertise. They also emphasise the influence of images of masculinity and femininity on the performance of experts and their assessment of evidence, victims and perpetrators, for example in cases of rape, infanticide and crimes of passion. This book is an important contribution to our knowledge of modern European forensic practices, which, as several chapters underline, sometimes surprisingly diverge from institutional regulations.
The case of the haemorrhage of the umbilical cord as cause of death
Sara Serrano Martínez
Historians have shown that medical testimonies in France and Britain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often favoured practices of lenient sentencing in cases of infanticide (newborn child murder). Yet, in other contexts, like some countries in Latin America, this was different. The present chapter adds to this increasingly complex comparative picture of the history of infanticide and justice, showing that in the first decades (1939–1969) of the Francoist dictatorship (1939–1975), when pronatalist policies were particularly important, medical testimonies also contributed to indicting and convicting suspects of infanticide. I show this by analysing one medical question that arose in infanticide cases: the question of whether the newborn could have died due to the haemorrhage of their cut, but untied, umbilical cord. This is a good case to analyse the role of medical evidence in the Francoist prosecution of infanticide, firstly, because it came up recurrently in the first decades of the dictatorship, contributing to several indictments and convictions, and secondly, because this practice contrasted with medico-legal literature that showed doubts about whether the haemorrhage could commonly be a cause of death in newborns. This chapter argues that, besides the pronatalist context of the Francoist dictatorship, some factors of the Francoist forensic culture explain this discrepancy between medico-legal theory and court practice: its system of appeals, how medical expertise was conceptualised, how autopsy reports were structured and the epistemic ideals for forensic experts.