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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.

in Forensic cultures in modern Europe
Leonie Hannan

This chapter examines the materials that circulated through the eighteenth-century home and the rooms that accommodated a range of domestic tasks. This was a period in which household material culture proliferated, but it was also one which valued thrift and careful management of resources. Drawing on account books, inventories and letters, this chapter makes the case for the home as a fruitful context for enquiry, arguing that it was an environment that actively fuelled and shaped investigative work. The chapter divides into four main sections; the first two explore the concept of home ‘oeconomy’ and rooms and their uses, taking into account change over time. Next the discussion moves to consider three working rooms in greater material detail: the kitchen, brewery and stillroom. Finally, the chapter considers the spaces around the house, gardens and grounds, that often played a role in provisioning the household. At each stage, the messy extant record of household provisioning and furnishing is interrogated for the insight it can offer into the home as a site for scientific enquiry. The chapter uses examples from a range of locations, including England, Ireland and colonial North America. The analysis roams across social strata, incorporating the urban housing of a provincial capital, compared with modest village homes and large country estates. This approach builds a picture of the diversity, but also the continuities, that existed in household design of this period.

in A culture of curiosity
Open Access (free)
Willemijn Ruberg

This introduction provides an overview of the historiography in regard to forensic science, medicine and psychiatry. It sketches how insights from the cultural turn, the practice turn and Science and Technology Studies (STS) have impacted research on the history of forensics. Then, the three main arguments of the volume are introduced. Firstly, the book calls for a serious engagement with the meanings of the concept of modernity and its implications for the study of forensic science and medicine. Thus, it zooms in on the relationship between modernity and the presumed shift from human witnesses to material evidence; on the impact of authoritarian regimes on the functioning of forensic experts; and on the role of modern epistemic virtues such as objectivity, but also of the modern media and gender images. Secondly, the importance of studying forensic practices (in contrast to forensic institutions or scientific discourses) is highlighted. Thirdly, the book suggests exploring the notion of ‘forensic culture’ in more detail. Important elements of a definition of forensic culture may include - in addition to technology and the professionalisation of experts - ideology (political ideology, but also ideas on religion, class, race and gender), the role of the media, legal systems and the formulation of criminal and procedural law. The Introduction shows how all chapters engage with these themes and closes by suggesting themes to be explored by future research.

in Forensic cultures in modern Europe
Open Access (free)
Cultures of enquiry in the eighteenth-century British world
Leonie Hannan

This chapter introduces the book’s main questions and themes and explains why the activities of a range of eighteenth-century, domestic experimenters have been overlooked by historians. The book’s research sits at the juncture of several fields, including histories of science and medicine, social and cultural history, gender history and material culture studies. This chapter therefore situates the research in relation to these relevant bodies of scholarship and highlights the key insights that prepared the ground for this book’s findings and argument. Divided into sections, it deals with the making and sharing of knowledge in this period (including popular access to information and networks of exchange) and also the work of the home. The latter incorporates a discussion of household labour, space, materials and things and the question of how ‘Enlightenment’ science was accommodated by the home and makes the case for seeing domestic practice as a route to enquiry. Finally, the chapter provides a synopsis of the structure and content of the book as a whole.

in A culture of curiosity
Criminal cases and the projection of expectations about forensic DNA technologies in the Portuguese press
Filipe Santos

Forensic cultures are built upon existing knowledge, practices and procedures, but also on collective imaginaries and aspirations. The latter can be inspired by fiction. Television fictional dramas like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation place forensic science at the forefront of criminal investigation. The alleged influence of this genre of fiction has raised concerns about the occurrence of CSI effects that supposedly alter the perceived value and relevance of scientific evidence in American courts. As the Portuguese forensic culture is shaped by inquisitorial procedures and the presumed neutrality of the judicial entities, public controversies over forensic evidence are unlikely. However, media coverage of criminal cases can offer insights into the production of collective representations about forensic science. Drawing from the analysis of five criminal cases that occurred in Portugal (1995–2010), resorted to forensic DNA technologies and were consistently covered by daily newspapers, this chapter argues that the CSI series may contribute to a sort of journalist effect version of the CSI effect. This effect can be observed by recurrent references to the television series as a metaphor for idealised or contrasting scenarios of forensic science, use of DNA technologies and criminal investigation. The uses of the CSI metaphor by the tabloid and the quality press in the context of Portugal can be interpreted through the notion of ‘imagination of the centre’, that is, a Portuguese way of being semi-peripheral insofar as the distance to the ‘centre’ is acknowledged, while projecting collective aspirations to be closer to that centre.

in Forensic cultures in modern Europe
Forensics in the aftermath of the Second World War
Taline Garibian

This chapter sheds light on the long history of forensic investigation of war/mass crimes. While the historiography tended to focus on a transition from documentary evidence dominant during the International Military Trial of Nuremberg and testimony which prevailed during the Eichmann trial, this chapter analyses a less explored way of assessing war/mass crimes. It traces back the genealogy of forensic practices and their link with the emergence of an international law of war, showing that the army has taken steps since the First World War to record and document the crimes committed by their enemies. Then, the chapter looks more thoroughly at the investigation carried out by the British Army in the aftermath of the Second World War. The archives of the British Army show that these practices were well established and that dedicated units were created. The report produced by the military forensic pathologist Keith Mant on medical experimentations carried out in the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp and on the exhumations of dead soldiers offers both examples of collection and the recording of testimonies and implementation of forensic practices of identification (i.e. dental charts comparison, tattoo marks observation etc.). By examining the implementation of a policy for the collection of material evidence and its use in combination with testimony, this chapter offers new perspectives on the history of forensic evidence in the context of war/mass crimes. Indeed, it argues that a continuum between material evidence and testimonies prevailed, and that different kinds of evidence were often used in combination.

in Forensic cultures in modern Europe
Open Access (free)
Leonie Hannan

Observation was a key scientific practice, but one that has been overshadowed by interest in the history of experiment. Close observation was also central to the refining of techniques of domestic provisioning and represented a practice familiar to many. Whilst it has been argued that scientific attention has special qualities, which strain the human body through repeated and precise movements, this was also true of many facets of home production. The chapter opens with a discussion of the naturalist, Gilbert White’s (1720–93) sensory practice and moves on to consider a central example of two Dublin apprentices who pursued their mutual fascination with astronomy. An intense period of star-gazing was captured in the letters of one apprentice to the other, as he attempted to guide his pupil in the skills of calculating the positions of celestial bodies. Through their example, a wider community of urban, working people become visible – individuals who engaged with astronomy in the context of demanding trades or professions. This chapter illuminates the depth of engagement with science that was possible in the context of crowded living conditions, a heavy workload and limited access to instruments. Despite such constraints, their letters reveal the abundant motivation, agency and expertise of these unrecognised eighteenth-century scientists.

in A culture of curiosity
Leonie Hannan

Chapter 6 considers the relationship between personal experience and knowledge by examining the way intellectual authority was constructed by non-elite scientists who operated below the radar of ‘Enlightenment science’. The analysis builds on the case studies explored in Chapters 4 and 5 by directly addressing questions of motivation, mastery, self-confidence and personhood. Silkworm-breeding women are considered for their construction of authority and ownership of expertise. Astronomer apprentices offer insight into the mastery working people could achieve through engagement with, and participation in, cheap print culture. Here, the act of enquiry is understood as a commitment that had a strong and sometimes fraught relationship with the sense of self. The decision to enquire could be an emotional one. For the people discussed here, negotiations around issues of social status, role and responsibilities were of crucial importance not only to their ability to pursue scientific activity but also for the value they placed upon that activity both for themselves and wider society. The chapter’s case studies give an authoritative voice to the variegated expertise that could be sharpened at home. The confidence of these individuals was bolstered by membership in multiple communities of enquiry in ink, print and person. Taken together, their testimonies indicate widespread and assertive participation in scientific knowledge-making by a diverse population of individuals.

in A culture of curiosity
Leonie Hannan

This final and concluding chapter offers an assessment of how the book’s findings change the way we understand science in the eighteenth century. In particular, the chapter offers a critique of the way the language historians use to describe enquiry acts to constrain and distort our view of enquiry itself and the people who engaged in it. Here, the eighteenth-century home is viewed as a dynamic, creative, communicative and connected place and the analysis strives to escape the diminishing connotations of ‘domestic’, based as they are on hierarchies that scholars have long rejected. Drawing on the philosophy of eco-feminist, Val Plumwood, the chapter argues for an approach that affirms unacknowledged historical actors, redefines their significance in relation to the hegemonic and, in doing so, reconstructs a sense of the whole that avoids the pitfalls of dualist thinking. The chapter also tackles questions concerning gender, status, labour, the home and the everyday in terms of cultures of knowledge. It considers how the experiences and knowledge of the people who populate this book can be understood in terms of wider currents in intellectual life in this period. The chapter argues that the activities of many people whose names do not grace the pages of history books animated the search for natural knowledge in this period. Collectively, they constituted a culture of curiosity. They conducted this complex project from the comfort of their very many different homes.

in A culture of curiosity