Software Engineering (3 Years) [BSc]

From Sherlock Holmes to CSI

Unit code: UCIL32511
Credit Rating: 20
Unit level: Level 3
Teaching period(s): Semester 1
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit?: Y




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. It is designed with students in biological sciences and medicine as well as history students in mind.



We all know what a Crime Scene looks like today – hooded, white-suited investigators carefully searching for trace 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?


‘CSI’ is just one of the many examples of forensic practices that we will study in this unit. We will look at a wide range of forensic investigation techniques – from lie detectors  to DNA ‘fingerprinting’ – and an equally wide range of historical sources – from detective fiction and newspaper reports of murder trials to present-day TV forensic dramas. We will ask questions like how are claims to forensic truth made, by whom, and with what tools and techniques?


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


Teaching and learning methods

11 x 2 hour lectures/seminars

20 credit unit

1500 word essay (25%)


2 hour examination (25%)


3000 word project report (50%)





Learning outcomes

  • Develop an understanding of historical developments in 19th and 20th century forensic medicine and science;
  • Locate the social, institutional and technical foundations for rise of specific forensic techniques;
  • Consider the sources of debate in the medical, scientific, legal and public domains concerning the credibility of forensic evidence;
  • Develop an understanding of the historical impact of popular representations of forensics
  • Take part in informed discussions about the social, cultural, and scientific history of forensic science and medicine;
  • Apply interdisciplinary research methods whilst using a range of primary sources as well as secondary literature; and
  • Know where to find and how to use material for further research.
  • In addition, 20-credit students will be able to develop a topic of their own choosing; find and assess primary and secondary sources; and write, with full scholarly apparatus, a report on their individual research project.

Employability skills

  • Analytical skillsStudents critically examine case studies using primary and secondary literature and analyse the topics covered using both quantitative and qualitative materials
  • Innovation/creativityStudents have the opportunity to be innovative in terms of how they address their essay topic
  • Oral communicationStudents encouraged to take part in discussion of the lecture material during seminar sessions
  • ResearchResearch required for essay and project

Assessment methods

  • Written exam - 25%
  • Written assignment (inc essay) - 25%
  • Report - 50%


Lecture Content

Week One

From Sherlock Holmes to CSI:  Course Unit Introduction and Overview

History of Forensics and Crime

Week Two

Histories of Forensics and Crime

Poisonous Victorians

Reading - Golan 1999, Cole/Duster 2016

Week Three

Poisonous Victorians

Determining Sanity

Reading - Burney 1999, Burney 2002

Week Four

Determining Sanity

Criminal Identity

Reading - Eigen 1999, Goldstein 1998

Week Five

Criminal Identity

Tales from the Dead

Reading - Sekula 1986, Doyle 1902

Week Six

Tales from the Dead

Making the Crime Scene

Reading - Burney 2000, Burney/Pemberton 2011

Week Seven

Making the Crime Scene

Experts and Trust

Reading - Burney 2013, Freeman 1909

Week Eight

Experts and Trust

The DNA Revolution

Reading - Cole 1998, Alder 2002

Week Nine

The DNA Revolution

Watching the Detectives

Reading - Jasanoff 1998, Lynch 2008

Week Ten

Watching the Detectives

View video selections

Discuss seminar readings

Reading - CSI ("Harvest") 2004, Kruse 2010

Cole and Dioso - Villa 2007

Week Eleven

Review and Revision

No Reading

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

  • Lectures - 11 hours
  • Seminars - 11 hours
  • Independent study hours - 178 hours

Teaching staff

Ian Burney - Unit coordinator

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