May 11, 2021

Kelly-Ann Couzens on The Police Surgeon in Victorian Edinburgh: A Talk on May 21, 2021@ThomGiddens

From Jennifer Aston, University of Northumbria, an announcement of a very interesting talk:
On 21st May at 11am the Law and Humanities RIG is hosting a talk by Dr Kelly-Ann Couzens discussing the historical role of the police surgeon. The abstract is attached. Kelly’s work is fascinating and she always tells a good story so even if historical research is not your bag it is worth coming along to learn more about the history of this little appreciated official. Kelly’s talk is entitled:
‘The office is not a very popular one, and its duties are often disgusting’:
The Police Surgeon in Victorian Edinburgh
Dr Kelly-Ann Couzens is an Australian-born scholar, specialising in British legal and medical history. Most recently, Kelly has been working as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Law at the University in Edinburgh. In 2019 she graduated with a PhD in history from the University of Western Australia and is currently writing her first book - The Victorian Police Surgeon: A History of Crime and Forensic Medicine - for Palgrave.
The talk will be hosted on Blackboard Collaborate. Here is the link.
 Here is the abstract of Dr. Couzens' talk.
‘The office is not a very popular one, and its duties are often disgusting’:
The Police Surgeon in Victorian Edinburgh
*Dr Kelly-Ann Couzens, Adjunct Research Fellow, Department of History, University of Western Australia

Read her essay, "The Police Surgeon, Medico-Legal Networks and Criminal Investigation in Victorian Scotland," in Crime and the Construction of Forensic Objectivity from 1850 (Alison Adam, ed. Springer, 2020), at 125-159.

Despite the ever-growing body of scholarship chronicling the history of forensic medicine within Anglo-American justice systems, the role of the police surgeon – as expert witness – remains largely neglected by historians. This is particularly surprising, given the diverse duties this doctor was tasked with during the Victorian era. For as well as being required to attend to the proper health and fitness of local police forces, the surgeon of police was often the first medical practitioner to make contact with victims and perpetrators in the aftermath of a violent crime. Working alongside local officials and law enforcement and empowered to inspect and certify cases of suspicious injury, sexual assault, death and insanity, the police surgeon held a unique position within the complex system of Scottish criminal justice. Nowhere is this better seen, than in the forensic career of surgeon, Sir Henry Duncan Littlejohn. For over five decades, Littlejohn laboured at the coalface of Victorian forensic medicine, whilst employed as Edinburgh city’s surgeon of police. From his appointment to the role in 1854, to the close of his forensic career in 1908, Littlejohn testified as an expert witness in hundreds of cases within Scotland’s inferior and higher courts. While the close of the Victorian era would see him emerge as a giant of the Scottish medical profession, Littlejohn’s path to recognition and success had been arduous. The bloody, corporeal, and taxing nature of forensic work left the police surgeon poorly regarded by his medical brethren. Moreover, as an employee of the city council who was intimately associated with the reputation and practices of the Edinburgh police, the conduct of the police surgeon was not exempt from public scrutiny. Yet as an intelligent, ambitious, and canny practitioner, Littlejohn was able to use this unpopular office to his professional advantage. Through this public-facing position, and regular involvement in diverse forensic matters, Littlejohn established a robust and distinctive footing in the civic, legal, and medical hierarchies of nineteenth and twentieth-century Edinburgh.


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