Imprint of the Raj: How Fingerprinting was Born in Colonial India

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Pan, 2004 - Criminology - 234 pages

A fascinating account of the invention of fingerprinting in colonial India and the story of how the technique was exported back to Victorian England. Opening with the first case in a British criminal court to use the radical new technique of fingerprinting to identify the perpetrators of crime in 1902 this riveting book takes us back to the origins of fingerprinting in India. Despite many books on the subject of fingerprints in general, none have looked closely at the fact that this standard tool of forensic science was born in India during the Raj. As the author points out, with the exception of curry there is not one other instance of something so fundamental to British life being imported fully-formed from the Empire and then being tailored to fit conditions at home. Based on original and hitherto unpublished research imprint of the Raj gives a unique insight into our colonial past and offers a vivid account of this extraordinary and largely ignored story.

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An intriguing history of how fingerprints were initially used in state benefit contexts in colonial India and ultimately migrated into use in criminal contexts in India and Britain. The writing is also wonderful--truly a pleasure to read. My one regret is that there are no footnotes or endnotes, making it hard to track down a reference. There is a "Further Reading" section at the end, but this is often not specific enough for the academic reader who wants to follow up on a particular point. 

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