BA History and American Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
From Sherlock Holmes to CSI: a history of forensic medicine

Course unit fact file
Unit code HSTM32511
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


We all know what a crime scene looks like today - hooded, white-suited investigators carefully searching for traces of evidence from behind police tape. But what do we know about its history? What did a crime scene look like a century ago, and what happened in it?

Through a historical perspective, you will look at a wide range of forensic investigation techniques. From lie detectors and DNA 'fingerprinting' to detective fiction, newspaper reports of murder trials, and present-day TV forensic dramas; you will investigate who make claims to forensic truth and what tools and techniques they use to arrive at that conclusion.

This unit does not require prior scientific, legal or historical knowledge; just a curiosity about styles of forensic investigation, past and present.





This course investigates the growing literature on the legal application of medical and scientific expertise; contextualizes contemporary understandings of and interest in forensics and its popular representations; and considers the history of forensics as a practical example of the dynamics of public understanding of science.

Learning outcomes




Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 25%
Written assignment (inc essay) 25%
Report 50%

Feedback methods

Students are encouraged ask questions at any time during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff will answer specific queries by email and during office hours, and will provide contact details in the course handbook or at lectures. All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and an assessment sheet explaining the mark awarded.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 11
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 176

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ian Burney Unit coordinator

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