Skip to navigation | Skip to main content | Skip to footer

University College for Interdisciplinary Learning

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

Course Unit Code

UCIL32011 (10 Credits)

UCIL32511 (20 Credits)

Course Unit Details

  • Level 3
  • Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine


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, for example, 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.


The unit investigates the growing literature on the legal application of medical and scientific expertise. It contextualises 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

On successful completion of the unit you will be able to:

  • Describe historical developments in 19th- and 20th-century forensic medicine and science
  • Describe and analyse the social, institutional and technical foundations of specific forensic techniques
  • Review the historical impact of popular representations of forensics
  • Identify and interpret debates in the medical, scientific, legal and public domains concerning the ethics and credibility of forensic evidence
  • Prepare and defend well-argued contributions to interdisciplinary group debates

In addition, for 20 credits:

  • Research and write a literature-based review, integrating scientific, historical and social viewpoints


  • Histories of Forensics and Crime
  • Poisonous Victorians
  • Determining Sanity
  • Criminal Identity
  • Tales from the Dead
  • Making the Crime Scene
  • Experts and Trust
  • The DNA Revolution
  • Watching the Detectives


10 Credits (UCIL32011)

  1. 1500 word coursework essay (50%)
  2. Online, open-book exam, 2 from 6 essays, 2 hour restricted time window (50%)

20 Credits (UCIL32511)

  1. 1500 word coursework essay (25%)
  2. Online, open-book exam, 2 from 6 essays, 2 hour restricted time window (25%)
  3. 3500 word project essay (50%)


UCIL units are designed to be accessible to undergraduate students from all disciplines.

UCIL units are credit-bearing and it is not possible to audit UCIL units or take them for additional/extra credits. You must enrol following the standard procedure for your School when adding units outside of your home School.

If you are not sure if you are able to enrol on UCIL units you should contact your School Undergraduate office. You may wish to contact your programme director if your programme does not currently allow you to take a UCIL unit.

You can also contact the UCIL office if you have any questions.

This unit is also available with a different course unit code. To take a UCIL unit you must choose the unit with a UCIL prefix.

Teaching Staff

Ian Burney

Teaching and Learning Methods

  • 11 x 2 hour lectures/seminars

Lectures and seminars are both live, and conducted face to face on campus. Lectures will also be podcast and made available on Blackboard. Seminars are informal and relaxed and you are encouraged to speak freely. Attendance at seminars is required each week.

I really enjoy this course because it delves deep into the investigatory side of Criminology rather than just societal trends and patterns. Not only is it really interesting but it is engaging to have a lecturer so passionate about your own course. Many of the texts I use for research have been written by my lecturer himself. It encourages me to research further as Ian's own fascination with the unit inspires my own.Amy Tyley, Criminology

Contact us

Connect with us

  • Facebook icon
  • Twitter icon
  • Instagram icon