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In England, between 1750 and 1914, scientific testimony increasingly became a feature of the law. In particular, the scope given to the expert witness shaped the development of the common law. The forensic sciences, in general, became a tool for identifying the criminal, while forensic psychiatry, in particular, was integral to developing new notions of criminal culpability and responsibility. In the process, society's understanding of both crime and the criminal was significantly modified by the emergence of these new sciences.
This subject will focus on the remarkable record-set that has been provided by the digitisation of the Old Bailey Session Papers (OBSP). As London's Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey was the predominant theatre of crime and punishment in the largest city in the world. The OBSP provides transcripts of the trials which offer extraordinary insights into the workings of the law and the past lives of the long dead historical actors. At the same time, they allow us to chart the transformations wrought upon law and society by the emergence of the forensic sciences.
Intended learning outcomes
Students who successfully complete this subject will:
- understand the emergence of forensic science, especially forensic psychiatry, in the context of the development of common law, policing, medical jurisprudence and psychiatry;
- synthesise, analyse and assess arguments about the history of the forensic sciences, contextualising these arguments within the broader domains of medicine, history, philosophy;
- create effective arguments, backed up by convincing evidence, about the development of the forensic science, and be able to express these to experts and interested non-experts;
- develop high-level research skills, including the ability to extend your knowledge-base beyond subject materials, combining traditional library- and archive-based research;
- develop effective communication and presentation skills (written and oral), and the ability to collaborate constructively within the classroom;
- demonstrate ethical integrity in written work and classroom activities, including a deep ethical engagement with issues around the law and the mind.
Last updated: 1 March 2024