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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

NIH features forensic exhibit

Now this is a library exhibit. From The Washington Post:

"Visible Proofs" runs through Feb. 16, 2008, at the National Library of Medicine, located on the Rockville Pike campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The exhibit opens Thursday with the cutting of a crime-scene tape at 11:30 a.m. At 6 p.m. the library will show "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" (1939), one of four forensics-focused films being shown in conjunction with the exhibit. The others, to be shown subsequent Thursdays at 6 p.m. through April 6, are "Mystery Street" (1950), "Citizen X" (1995) and "Sleepy Hollow" (1999). The showings will be preceded by talks by historians, film critics or NIH scientists, and followed by moderated discussions.
The official site for the exhibit is here.
We, the living, instinctively recoil in the presence of death. Whether the deceased is a beloved, a friend, or a stranger, the shock of death's finality registers. When a life is unexpectedly extinguished, we need answers and seek the cause. Today, this need is addressed in police investigations, laboratories, courtrooms, and all of the venues in which scientific medicine interacts with the law—the field of forensics. Visible Proofs is about the history of forensic medicine. Over the centuries, physicians, surgeons, and other professionals have struggled to develop scientific methods that translate views of bodies and body parts into "visible proofs" that can persuade judges, juries, and the public. At times, the power of forensics has been exceeded by the difficulty of the questions it seeks to answer. But at best, its visible proofs testify on behalf of the victims of violent crime and against the guilty—and console and inspire and amaze us.
Love this quote on the site:
"You are not to expect visible proofs in a work of darkness. You are to collect the truth from circumstances, and little collateral facts, which taken singly afford no proof, yet put together, so tally with, and confirm each other, that they are as strong and convincing evidence, as facts that appear in the broad face of the day." —Judge Francis Buller, to the jury, Donnellan case, March 1781
Lots of great features on forensic science today and in the past at the online exhibit. Take this for example:
This sensational pamphlet, on the murder of Sir James Standsfield by his son Philip, reports that investigators in the case used a forensic test, based on the ancient belief that the corpse of a victim will bleed if touched by the murderer. After the surgeons had conducted the autopsy, they concluded that James Standsfield had been murdered, and sewed up his wounds. Philip Standsfield was then made to lift his father's body. The pamphlet states that blood from the fatal wound "sprung out upon Philip Standsfield's Hand," which was taken as a sign (from "the finger of God") that he was guilty—corroborating the considerable amount of circumstantial evidence which already weighed against him. Philip Standsfield was found guilty and hanged in the Edinburgh market square from a gibbet. As further punishment for the heinous crime of patricide (which was legally defined as "treason"), his tongue was cut out and burned on a scaffold, his right hand was cut off, and his body hung up in chains, all for public viewing. Scholars believe that the Standsfield case was perhaps the last in Scottish law to use the bleeding corpse test. "In a secret Murther, if the dead carkasse be at any time thereafter handled by the Murtherer, it will gush out of blood; as if the blood were crying to Heaven for revenge of the Murtherer." —Dæmonologie , King James VI, Scotland (James I of England)
Some of the images are rather gruesome -- so be warned. I'm glad to see the work of Frances Glessner Lee is included in the exhibit. I had the chance to see her eerie dollhouses of murder years ago. Don't miss the gallery for her incredibly detailed miniatures of crime scenes.
In 1943, Mrs. Lee was appointed captain in the New Hampshire State Police, the first woman in the United States to hold such a position. Around the same time, she began work on the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death—a series of eighteen miniature crime-scene dioramas for student analysis. The Nutshells allowed Mrs. Lee to combine her lifelong love of dolls, dollhouses, and models with her passion for forensic medicine. She originally presented them to the Harvard Department of Legal Medicine; later they came into the possession of the Maryland Chief Medical Examiner's Office. Erle Stanley Gardner, the writer best known for creating the Perry Mason mysteries, and Mrs. Lee's close friend, wrote that "A person studying these models can learn more about circumstantial evidence in an hour than he could learn in months of abstract study."


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