History of Forensic Science

I am currently working on a book project that sits at the intersection of the history of law, science, and medicine.  “Fear of the False: Criminal Law and Forensic Science in Colonial South Asia” explores notions of truth, trust, and justice in empire.

Here is a summary:

Around 1900, the British Indian state created a web of institutions for the scientific detection of crime. India’s new experts in toxicology, blood stains, handwriting analysis, and explosives were supposed to cut through the perjury and forgery of “mendacious natives” to extract objective scientific truth in the service of a neutral vision of justice. But the new forensic science invited increasingly complicated and conflicting answers to the questions, “what is truth?” and “what is justice?” This study reveals that a system initially structured along fault lines of racial difference expanded into a site for competing conceptions of truth and justice among men of science and of law, both British and Indian.

I’ve published this article on planted animal blood, the Imperial Serologist, and species-of-origin bloodstain testing. It will be the basis for a chapter in my book, and was awarded the 2020 Law and Society Article Prize. You can listen to this Flash Forward podcast with Rose Eveleth to hear more.

As a spin-off article from the book project, I wrote “Abortion in South Asia, 1860-1947: A medico-legal history,” Modern Asian Studies 55:2 (2021), 371-428 (Open Access version here). This 2-minute video sums up the main argument.

I published a related op-ed in the Madras Courier (2018) on the centenary of the end of WWI, “the chemists’ war”: The History of Poison & Stereotypical Narratives. And here is a magazine article I published in Himāl Southasian (2020) on contagious disease and forensics: Pandemic or poison? How epidemics shaped Southasian legal history

For some blogposts related to the project:

(updated on 23 March 2023)