Nicole's Reviews > Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification

Suspect Identities by Simon A. Cole
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's review
Aug 01, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: history-read-other

An engaging book that is well researched and well presented. Cole makes several important arguments that could perhaps come through more clearly, but the ends of his chapters drive those points home. The basic argument that he raises about the competition between anthropometry and fingerprinting is that anthropometry was thought to be useful on people of European ancestry, where the operators could more easily perceive subtle differences in their subjects; fingerprinting, by contrast, was used for "others" who "all look alike," including colonial subjects (especially in India, where the British government developed the technique), and, in the United States, Chinese and African Americans. Cole also makes an excellent point that one of the first other groups in the US to be fingerprinted were prostitutes, placing women in that "other" category as well. I would have liked to know more about how the various US governments dealt with identifying Native Americans.

I'd also really like to know what the author thinks about the effects of CSI on people's conceptions of forensic science. His book, like several others I have read, went to press right before the initial CSI series started. My hypothesis is that it has helped to overcome some of the challenges that came out of the OJ Simpson trial. But you never do see the CSI people talking about the Daubert standard, which is telling. (We have to watch the Law & Order shows for that.)

Re-read November 2013 for HST 301: Graduate Historiography.

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