Sunday, August 12, 2007

"Our little systems have their day."--Tennyson, In Memoriam

Another reason why I love libraries...
The other day, I came across this book: Forensic Science: an encyclopedia of history, methods, and techniques. Its introduction was quite imaginative and engrossing, a far cry from the typical droning "Chapter one is about... Chapter two is about..." The author opened each section of his history with a quote from literature.
He started off the whole introduction with "The world's history is the world's judgment." (Friedrich von Schiller, Lectures, May 1789). In writing about how the Industrial Revolution led to the invention of some elaborately named construction that made forensic science possible, he quoted Shakespeare, "The brightest heaven of invention..." (from King Henry V). From there, it was but a leap to "By a set of curious chances..." (Gilbert, The Mikado), relating to the explosion of applied science discoveries in the 19th century.
"Turning to poison..." (Keats, "Ode on Melancholy") and "For the red blood reigns..." (Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale) opened sections on very obvious things that forensic science is interested in.
In discussing how research in other fields of science helped forensic science, the relevant quote was "The true university of these days is a collection of books." (Thomas Carlyle, "Heroes and Hero Worship Lecture V. The Hero as a Man of Letters") The dawn of the twentieth century merited the quote "Brave New World" (Aldous Huxley, title of his book). The section on increased sophistication in identification was introduced by "The American system of rugged individualism..." (Hoover, campaign speech, 1928). The ability to solve crimes long past due to biometrics (use of bodily evidence) had this curious quote "I have been looking for a person...all my life" (Sydney Smith, Memoir, Chapter 9), as well as this rousing Shakespearean one, "...summon up the blood" (King Henry V).
And for those of us who watch shows like Law & Order, "Rome has spoken; the case is concluded" (St. Augustine, Sermons, Book 1), which refers to the importance of case law in establishing what can be used as evidence.

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