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Week 4

Theme 1 Identity and identification: linking the self to the skin

Week 4

Identifying the ‘Other’: imperial fingerprints

Thus far, we have focused on how we know and define ourselves as individuals, community members and citizens. But identity is also imposed on us by others – not just who we think we are, but who we are thought and assumed to be. This week we will begin to examine technologies of identification, and their relationship to imposed and assumed identities. Our first port of call will be India under the Raj…

 

Seminar topic: The power is in the details

Why did fingerprinting emerge from India? Why did colonial administrators, in particular, need to define individuals, and why did they choose a physical, embodied identifier as their preferred method of doing so? What does this choice reveal about their assumptions about Indians, India, and themselves?

 

Required Reading:

  • Chandak Sengoopta, Imprint of the Raj: How Fingerprinting was born in colonial India, London Macmillan 2003 Chapters 2-3, 5-6.
  • IF you cannot access Sengoopta, read instead Clare Anderson, Legible Bodies: Race Criminality and Colonialism in South Asia (Oxford: Berg, 2004): Chapter 5 ‘Voir/Savoir: Photographing, measuring and fingerprinting the Indian Criminal’ [This is available as an e-book in the Library. It is shorter, but it is a somewhat more challenging reading]

 

Background and Further Reading:

For some great primary sources, see: http://galton.org/fingerprinter.html

Clare Anderson, Legible Bodies: Race Criminality and Colonialism in South Asia (Oxford: Berg, 2004): Chapter 5 ‘Voir/Savoir: Photographing, measuring and fingerprinting the Indian Criminal’ [This is available as an e-book in the Library]

Simon Cole, ‘What Counts for Identity? The Historical Origins of the methodology of Latent Fingerprint Identification Science in Context, 12 (1993):139-172.

Marc Garcelon, ‘Colonizing the Subject: the Genealogy and Legacy of the Soviet Internal Passport’, in Jane Caplan and John Torpey (eds), Documenting Individual Identity The Development of State Practices since the French Revolution (Princeton: PUP, 2001): 83-100.

Julia Rodriguez, "South Atlantic Crossings: Fingerprints, Science, and the State in Turn-of-the-Century Argentina," The American Historical Review April 2004 <http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/109.2/rodriguez.html> (26 Oct. 2009).

Radhika Singha, ‘Settle, mobilize, verify: Identification practices in colonial India’ Studies in History, NS 15 (2000):151-98

Henry Cotton, Indian and Home Memories (London: Unwin, 1911).

New Readings for paper writers

Julia A. Laite. "Taking Nellie Johnson’s Fingerprints: Prostitutes and Legal Identity in Early Twentieth-Century London." History Workshop Journal 65 (2008): 96-116. Project MUSE.

Kim A. Wagner, 'Confessions of a Skull: Phrenology and Colonial Knowledge in Early Nineteenth-Century India', History Workshop Journal Issue 69 (Spring 2010): 27-51 Project MUSE
 
Simon A. Cole, 'Twins, Twain, Galton, and Gilman: Fingerprinting, Individualization, Brotherhood, and Race in Pudd’nhead Wilson', Configurations, Fall 2007; Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 227-265 Project MUSE