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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Professor Ian Burney

BA, PhD

Research Interests

My research and publication activity sits at the crossroads of the histories of medicine, science, the law, and the social and cultural history of modern Britain. My main work has been written up in three monographs.

My first book, Bodies of Evidence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), offered a reinterpretation of the role of scientific and medical experts in the modern democratic state. Focusing on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century debates about the reform of the coroner's inquest in England, it challenged traditional accounts of the rise of expertise by analyzing a fundamental tension between the needs of modern governance on the one hand and the politics of expanding popular participation on the other.

My second book, Poison, Detection and the Victorian Imagination (Manchester University Press, 2006, paperback 2011) linked medical, legal and popular understandings of criminal poisonings to ‘the imagination’ as a historically specific analytical construct. Juxtaposing material from forensic medical and toxicological texts, reports from chemical laboratories, treatises on the law of evidence, arguments staged in courtrooms, and literary and other cultural representations of poison and poisoning, it traces out the complex web of thought and practice that made criminal poisoning one of the mid-Victorian period's central anxieties.

My most recent book, Murder and the Making of English CSI, co-authored with my CHSTM colleague Neil Pemberton, will be published by Johns Hopkins in autumn 2016. It tells the story of how one of the most iconic features of our present-day forensic landscape – crime scene investigation – came into being. Drawing on material ranging from how-to investigator handbooks and detective novels to crime journalism, police case reports, and courtroom transcripts, the book shows readers how, over time, the focus of murder inquiries shifted from a primarily medical and autopsy-based interest in the victim’s body to one dominated by laboratory technicians laboring over minute trace evidence.

 

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