University College for Interdisciplinary Learning

From Sherlock Holmes to CSI: A History of Forensic Science and Medicine

Course Code

UCIL32011 (10 credits)

UCIL32511 (20 credits)

Course Details

  • Level: 3
  • Credit load: 10/20


We all know what a Crime Scene looks like today: white-suited and hooded investigators carefully searching for trace evidence from behind a barrier of yellow police tape. It is a highly regimented place, driven by strict codes of conduct to prevent "contamination" and to ensure that traces taken from it retain their identity as evidence. But what do we know about its history?

What did a crime scene look like a century ago, and what happened in it? We will look at a wide range of forensic investigation techniques from the lie detector to DNA 'fingerprinting' and an equally wide range of historical sources from detective stories and newspaper reports to present-day television dramas.

The course unit does not require any prior scientific, legal or historical knowledge, only a curiosity about and a willingness to engage with styles of forensic investigation, past and present.


Summary of Learning Outcomes

  • By the end of this Unit, a student will have an appreciation of the basic features of historical developments in 19th and 20th century forensic medicine and science; the social, institutional and technical foundations for rise of specific forensic techniques; the conditions governing the application of forensic techniques in specific historical cases; the sources of debate in the medical, scientific, legal and public domains concerning the credibility of forensic evidence; the historical impact of popular representations of forensics.
  • Students taking the 20 credit unit will also be able to find and research a topic of their own choosing; to find and assess critically primary and secondary sources; to write, with full scholarly apparatus, a report on their individual research project.



10 credit unit (HSTM32012)

  1. 1500 word essay (50%)
  2. two hour final exam (50%)

20 credit unit (HSTM32512)

  1. 1500 word essay (25%)
  2. two hour final exam (25%)
  3. final project (50%)


This course is only open to undergraduate students.

University College course units are available to take on programmes which have 'free choice' options available to them, (i.e. programmes which allow you, as part of the degree programme, to take a number of credits from subject areas outside of your home school). As these courses are credit bearing, you must enrol by following the standard procedure for your school when adding units outside of your home school.

If you are not sure whether you will be able to enrol in University College courses, please contact your School Undergraduate Office to find out whether these options are available for your degree programme.


Professor Ian Burney

Teaching and Learning Methods


1 - 12Weds11:00 - 13:00

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