Decomposing Bodies

Late in the nineteenth century, Alphonse Bertillon, the French policeman, anthropologist and inventor, developed a system of criminal identification that sought to classify human beings on individual standardized cards, each containing a consistent set of biometric measurements and observations. He called this method “anthropometry,” and he conceived of this work as a key weapon in the fight against recidivism—an increasingly central criminological issue of the day. This process, now known more familiarly as “Bertillonage,” was essentially a system that dissasembled the visual forms of the human body into small pieces so that the police could individuate, and thus identify, a single human body out of thousands, even millions. Each Bertillon card—one per human being—contained information about a series of eleven physical measurements taken from the body, along with photographs and a coded description of the visible attributes of the human form to create a summary, a hash, a digest, a decomposition of the human body into numbers, letters, codes and sparse images.

Before the age of digital machines, before the rampant quantization and normalization of the physical world were taken in stride, this practice of dissolving the body into numbers, still images and letters was novel, unknown. Decomposing Bodies seeks to defamiliarize this process of breaking down and defining what we see into quantized digests, by collecting, analyzing, digitizing and re-presenting the data created by the process of Bertillonage, specifically as practiced in the United States. Consequently, the project also represents a thorough examination of the historical information management principles that lay behind Bertillon’s innovative approach to decomposing bodies into a series of numerical and visual components.Ultimately, this project seeks to create new means of understanding the implications and possibilities inherent in this nineteenth-century process of treating human beings as numbers and letters, and how this approach to the visible world might relate to the dawn of computing.

Decomposing Bodies

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    Semester Wrap-Up of Decomposing Bodies

    Hard to believe that this semester is already coming to an end!

    My work on Decomposing Bodies this spring focused on two different areas: reading and research about the history of policing and prisons in the United States, and data management of the images and related documents making up the heart of the DB dataset. At first glance, these two endeavors seem wildly different, and they certainly require different ways of thinking and skillsets, but I think that they are both essential part of the work that makes DB an interesting and engaging project, and that you can’t have one without the other.

    Decomposing Bodies is a digital humanities project, and the work that I’ve done on it this past spring has been both digital and humanistic. After the Data (after)Lives exhibit in the Fall, we felt it was important to update DB’s presence on the web to reflect our most recent work, and some of the ideas, tools, and visualizations that have come out of it. This involved updating the public Decomposing Bodies website with a timeline of the project’s history, updated bibliography and contributors, and the addition of an interactive visualization of the faces and measurements of some of the people documented by Bertillonage that make up DB.

    Along with updating the website, I have also worked to update the documentation of the transcriptions of the Bertillon cards in Omeka. I can now say that over 1,800 cards have been completely transcribed, and 700 more have been at least partially transcribed. This represents approximately 20% of the cards in the Decomposing Bodies collection. This is in large part thanks to the work of the graduate and undergraduate students working in the VMW, including two First Experience in Research students, Joe Jang and Ashley Cipcic, who not only helped immensely with transcription this term, but also conducted their own research about the racial and social demographics of the people in the cards they transcribed.

    Engaging with the social and cultural situation that led to the implementation of Bertillonage in the Ohio penal system was another avenue of my work for this semester. This is the ‘human’ part of this project. I have been reading about the history of the prison system in the United States, and the particular circumstances that lead to the implementation of Bertillonage in Ohio at the turn of the last century. Some of my readings have included: “At Hard Labor: Rediscovering the 19th Century Prison”, by Martin Miller, Forgotten Reformer : Robert McClaughry and Criminal Justice Reform in Nineteenth-Century America, by Frank Morn, and the Proceedings of the annual congress of the National Prison Association, held at Cincinnati, September 25-30, 1890. It’s impossible to disconnect the prison reform movement of the late 19th century from the shift in the goals of incarceration that was happening concurrently, or from the rapid expansion of the prison-industrial complex in the United States today. And no part of that process can be separated from the understanding of race in Reconstruction Era America.

    I will be continuing to work on Decomposing Bodies over the Summer Term, and I hope to expand my work in both the data management and historical contexts of this project. There are so many directions to go with DB, and I feel lucky to get to explore some of them, especially as they relate to my own research interests. See you in the summer, then!

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
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    Decomposing Race

    Political correctness has been pushed to propagate the idea of distance between the political elite to the working class and distract people from the larger, more substantial issues at hand. One of the most relevant issues, racism, has been skirted around despite its continual relevancy to the problems of modern society. Racism has always existed, and continues to exist. Its presence, impact, and definition have changed, but are still visible. During my time transcribing Bertillon cards from the Ohio State Reformatory and Penitentiary, I have found trends between complexion and crime as well as racial undertones and early usages of political correctness.

    Historically, Black people have been underprivileged and marginalized. They were granted only second-class citizenship, if at all. This influence was clear in the transcription data that Ashley Cipcic, my research partner, and I have collected. In the prisoner records--the cards we catalogue into the Decomposing Bodies online dataset, Omeka--Laborer, the most menial job, was also the most common job. It appeared 96 times in our (growing) dataset of 642. People with dark, brown, chocolate, or mulatto complexions held 60 of those 96 positions. Medium complexions held another 27 of the 96 positions. The presence of race as a determining factor of socioeconomic status was significant. From birth, Black people’s occupational limits were predetermined.

    Black people’s “tendencies” to commit crimes, too, may have been predetermined. It is interesting to note the demographics of Ohio in 1900. At the time, only 97,000 people of the total population of 4,158,000 (2.3%) were Black. Nevertheless, 40.6% of the prisoners we archived were of complexions that carry racially charged language; of our compiled list of 642 prisoners, 261 were labeled as dark, chocolate, brown, or mulatto. Though it is not necessarily true that police purposefully sought out Black people to arrest, or that Black people may have had a propensity to commit felonies due to their exposure to crime, poverty segregation, and inhumane treatment, there is a notable correlation between complexion and entering prison. Efforts to treat people fairly were, however, somewhat present. It should be noted that some White people were labeled dark as well. Furthermore, 199 prisoners (this excludes those that were specified as medium brown, dark, etc.) were ambiguously labeled as “medium.”

    The fact that “medium” could have been attributed to any person also speaks to the slowly encroaching idea of political correctness and unbiased treatment of people--not insofar that it would be defined as such, but that America of the 1900s began its attempt to enforce equal rights and treatment. The Civil Rights Movement did not even begin to form until Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), but the idea that all peoples deserved respect may have started to develop.

    The irony of this situation (other than the categorization of the descent of all Black people as “Negro,” regardless that they were most likely born in America like their white “American” counterparts) is that the historical mistreatment of Black people in America has created a situation in which people are never truly equal. Equality does not exist now, nor has it ever. The effects of racism in America still linger.

    I do not claim to have found anything that directs us to the beginning of inequality or answers our problems (in regards to race and prison), or to have better defined the proper usage of political correctness. I do, however, think that the trends that Ashley Cipcic and I have stumbled upon may lead to the beginnings of the answer to why the prison system in America is prejudiced.

     

    All state demographic data was from http://blackdemographics.com/states/ohio/ which collected census data.

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
    • The reverse side (without mugshot) of a Bertillon card
    • The cover of the book "Punishment and Inequality in America" by Bruce Western
    • A screenshot of the tags currently in use in the Decomposing Bodies Omeka site
    The reverse side (without mugshot) of a Bertillon card

    The reverse side (without mugshot) of a Bertillon card

     

    Updates to Decomposing Bodies

    This term is seeing some big changes for Decomposing Bodies— some that will be apparent from the outside, and some that will only affect those of us working behind the scenes. The Decomposing Bodies project has been a part of the VMW since the winter of 2013, and has gone through several phases over the years. This term, myself, along with two First Experience in Research (FER) students, as well as the support of the entire staff of the VMW, we are rolling out the next phase in Decomposing Bodies— what it is, how it’s organized, and who it’s for.

     

    Tags

    Creating a dataset of the text written on the Bertillon cards in the images that make up DB is the process of transcription, which is work that is shared between everyone working in the VMW. We use the content management system (CMS) Omeka, which is a project of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, at George Mason University. A part of the transcription system involves the use of tags, which allow users to indicate how much of a card has been transcribed, and whether there are any anomalies with the card. This makes review by the Project Manager much easier, and keeps track of our progress on the transcriptions. Beginning in January, we transferred to a new system of tags, which document similar aspects of the transcription process, but in more explicit terms. For example, the tag “pass1a” has become “Front,” indicating that all the fields on the front of a particular card have been transcribed. Not all of the tags translate so cleanly from one system to another, which is why before implementing the new system, I created what is known in the info management world as a “crosswalk”: a document outlining the items in the new tag schema, and their relationships to the old system. Future researchers using the DB dataset will likely never encounter these tags, or be affected by this change, but it marks a shift in how the ongoing work on this project is handled.

     

    Website

    However, not all the planned work on Decomposing Bodies will be behind the scenes. After the Data (after)Lives exhibition last fall, we’ve been working with Sam Nosenzo, an undergraduate Computer Engineering major here at Pitt, to create interactive visualizations of the faces from the Bertillon cards. This project is an extension of Sam’s piece with Alison Langmead and Aaron Henderson for Data (after)Lives, 7,105 Faces, in Order, and asks the viewer to confront the humanity of the people documented by the Bertillon cards. This interactive tool, as well as a static video version, will be a part of the public-facing Decomposing Bodies website, which is in the process of getting a major overhaul this term.

    Besides integrating Sam’s work, I have also been working on creating a comprehensive timeline of the past three and a half years of work on Decomposing Bodies, which will documented on the DB website. Along with this timeline, there are myriad resources related to Bertillonage, criminality, prison reform, surveillance practices, and facial recognition technologies that the research team has collected over the years. This bibliography, as well as some discussion of its influence on our own work with DB, will also be available on the updated website. These updates are expected to be live by the end of the Spring term. Keep an eye out here for the official launch date!

     

    FERs

    As I mentioned in the introduction to this post, Decomposing Bodies has two FER students this term: Joe Jang and Ashley Cipcic. They have been assisting with transcriptions of Bertillon cards, as well as developing a research project related to the content of the cards they’re looking at. They will both be writing blog posts documenting their work this semester. Ashley’s blog posts are at http://www.constellations.pitt.edu/blogs/ashley-cipcic, and Joe’s are at http://www.constellations.pitt.edu/blogs/joe-jang.

     

    Prison Reform and Bertillonage

    Finally, in thinking about not only creating the DB dataset, but also engaging with the objects and concepts that the dataset documents, I am beginning exploratory research into the role of Bertillonage in the prison reform movements happening across the United States, but especially in the midwest, at the turn of the 20th century. The implementation of Bertillonage in the Ohio State Reformatory and the Ohio Penitentiary— and across the US in general— is an interesting permutation of Bertillon’s original system, which was intended for use in the police force, in order to identify recidivist criminals at the point of arrest, rather than as a form of documentation for individuals as they move into the penal system. The conflation, or at least shortening of distance, between policing and prisons in the United States during this time has powerful repercussions for how crime, punishment, and surveillance are treated in contemporary discourse. You can see my ongoing reading list for this project at: https://www.zotero.org/shackney19/items/collectionKey/2QXCC52E  

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
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    Transcribing by the Dozen

    I have been working on Decmposing Bodies for over a month now and I have noticed interesting facts about the Ohio State Reformatory prisoners. I noticed the majority of the cards I transcribed had crime and occupation written on them and that both characteristics varied some but not too much; I became curious if these two characteristics had any correlation. After transcribing numerous cards, my interst grew and I wanted to know more about why these supposedly ordinary people went to prison and if their jobs gave them the influence over why they committed the crimes they did. I discussed my interest and opinion of the cards with my FER partner Joe Jang and it turned out he wanted to uncover the same information while adding prisoners complexion into the analysis. I never thought about adding complexion to the mix but it made sense to consider one's skin color as a characteristic that could influence why the crime was committed. 

    Joe and I brainstormed what we wanted to accomplish with this project and as a jumpstart into our potential research project, we decided that after every transcription, we would record the prisoner's occupation, complexion, and crime into a google document shared between Joe, Sarah Hackney, and me. We have been cataloging our findings on this google document for roughly two weeks and we have over 300 cards transcribed. I analyzed the data we collected so far and found that most of the prisoners had Labor as an occupation, a large portion were of fair complexion, and the most committed crime was burglary, which was often committed alongside larceny. The photos I added are two exapmles of prisoners that had all three characteristics that I noted were the majority out of all the cards transcribed. 

    Joe and I still have numerous cards to transcribe but we have given each other a foundation to build on top of, making the transcription process quicker, easier and meaningful. Hopefully this trend of fair laborers committing burglary and larceny will continue or maybe a handful of cards will tip the scale into a different combination of occupation, crime and complexion. 

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Undergraduate Work
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    My First Day on the Job

    I was first exposed to the project Decomposing Bodies under First Experience of Research's (FER) guidance. I was given a description of the project along with over 200 others and the digital humanities caught me hook-line-and-sinker. Right off the bat I was intrigued by what the title of the project meant and how it relates to inheriting the nineteenth-century process of treating human beings as numbers. Before reading the description of the project, I had no previous knowledge of Alphonse Bertillon or his process of classifying human beings as individuals on cards. As I read on, Decomposing Bodies seemed to reach out and call me; the skills and activities (being comfortable with computers, highly observant, and extreme interest with details) were all up my alley and what I loved to do. Naturally, it made sense to ask if I could join the project to help advance the research that was taking place.

    My first day working with Alison Langmead and Sarah Hackney was mainly an introductory period for me; we discussed the project in more detail and what my job would be as their undergraduate assistant. My very first assignment was to brush up on my information of the Bertillonage system and I discovered numerous, interesting facts. For instance, back in the nineteenth-century the majority of crimes were committed by men, but roughly 20,000 women were convicted criminals as well. After reading multiple articles, questions began to arise: Why did Bertillon chose these specific measurements? What types of crimes made a person eligible for prison? How accurate was this process in preventing recidvism? Some of these questions I was able to answer by further reading, but more bubbled after every answer I found. After I had a fairly good grasp on what the system was and how it worked, I was able to start transcription of the prison record cards from the Ohio State Penitentiary. Actually seeing and transcribing the cards was an exhilarating feeling; I had the chance to delve into their world and try to comprehend what each piece of data meant. The hardest part of this process was attempting to read the old fashioned, nineteenth-century writing. However, the more cards I became exposed to, the easier my brain was able to decipher the handwriting.

    I have been working with Decomposing Bodies for a little over two weeks and every time I get the chance to work with the project, my fascination for the decomposing cards continues to grow. I am excited to continue my research with Alison Langmead and Sarah Hackney and hope all the information I dig up will help the Digital Humanities reach their intended goal with this project: to explore creative ways of connecting the community to the juxtaposition of academic inquiry and the social world.

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Undergraduate Work
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    New Directions in the VMW

    Alison Langmead has embarked on outreach efforts to connect the VMW with other digital humanities spaces, beginning with our colleagues in the US, but soon hoping to move more internationally. We are looking forward to all of the opportunities this will provide, and are perceiving a future where the question is less "what can computers do for the study of material culture," and more, "what shall we do today?”

    One of these outreach efforts is making the connection with Tracey Berg-Fulton, creative technologist and webmaster at Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums. Berg-Fulton donated to the VMW a 26000-entry dataset of Algernon Graves' collection of 18th- to 20th-century art sales, digitized from his vast, published ledger Art Sales from Early in the Eighteen Century to Early in the Twentieth Century. In the short run, S. E. Hackney and Lily Brewer are working toward implementing this data into visual patterns and historical contextualization respectively for Sotheby’s Institute of Art Research Award through the Art Libraries Society of North America. Undergraduate research assistant Vee McGyver, under Hackney’s supervision, is working on figuring out how to visualize relationships in data based on art sales using a force-directed graph from the javascript d3 library. Frick Fine Arts Library director Kate Joranson is sponsoring these efforts.

    As Graves’ data becomes available and conceptualized in visually informative ways, we’re investigating ways in which the data can turn into objects that we can track through Itinera (itinera.pitt.edu). By honing and creating more geographically specific locations for these entities and tracking works of art through Graves' art sales, the VMW cohort under Brewer’s guidance is working toward diversifying Itinera by mapping the European and non-Western routes of lesser tracked populations such as influential women and people of color through 18th-century Eastern Europe and Turkey. In our attention to multiple scales and modalities of historical vision, our attention focuses on the questions, how can we visualize and generate new insights into the travels of 18th-century travelers through contemporary identity politics and digital mapping methods? Furthermore, how can mapping diverse populations in this time over this space creating meaning through historical place-making?

    As the end of the term approaches, the Sustaining MedArt team lead by Aisling Quigley continues to unearth and reconstruct the socio-technical history of the website, Images of Medieval Art and Architecture (www.medart.pitt.edu). While the digital forensics research has provided helpful insights into the foundations of the site, this work has been arduous. The digital forensics tools are complex and uncooperative, and the dissection of the site itself has revealed a tangle of messy innards. Despite numerous obstacles, however, our team perseveres undaunted! Indeed, the complexities are revelatory in and of themselves, and the data is slowly but surely bringing to light important moments in the website creation process. Following from this work, the team, comprised of Quigley, Lindsay Decker (read Decker's reflections on the subject here), and Jedd Hakimi, is discussing and establishing a firm infrastructure for developing a socio-technical digital preservation roadmap.

    Undergraduate researcher Dheeraj K. Jalluri works on a neuroaesthetic research project investigating neural basis of artistic aesthetic experience in Abstract Expressionist art under Brewer's guidance. This semester, he is focusing on formulating a method to quantitatively analyze artwork qualities implicated in neuroaesthetic theories, such as symmetry and contrast and value using Photoshop. In future exploration, he gears his tools toward the crowd-sourcing tool Mechanical Turk and Fourier Analysis in the development of a larger research question that best suits these methods.

    Decomposing Bodies’ focus for the coming year will be building a unified online collection and corresponding data set for thousands Bertillon cards in the collection, and making that data accessible. The historical, physiological, and contextual data contained on these cards is a rich vein for researchers across many fields, and our goal with DB is to begin to make our digitized collection more visible to research communities and to begin building the relationships that will result in future projects and collaborations. These goals manifest in continuing the work of classifying and transcribing the cards, managing their metadata, and creating more robust public-facing representations of the project, under the guidance of project manager S. E. Hackney, and with contributions from the entire VMW cohort. (Read more of Hackney's reflections on the subject here.)

    As an invitation to inter-institutional connection and networking, those interested in our efforts toward constructing bridges to other digital humanities spaces can follow #arthistory on our Digital Humanities Slack (https://t.co/BI1cizC4de) and through our new listserv at https://list.pitt.edu/mailman/listinfo/ddarth.

    Categories: 
    • Current Projects
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Itinera
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Populations
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • Spaces
    • VMW
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    Structuring Decomposing Bodies

    Working on Decomposing Bodies over the last month and a half has been an exercise in process. Shortly after the start of the semester, the Data (after)Lives show went up, featuring data from DB, some of the physical Bertillon cards and exploring many of the same ideas that we confront in DB every day. Data (after)Lives was a great way for me to see what Decomposing Bodies is as a concept, but since then, most of my work has been examining and manipulating it as a structure.

    Since DB has changed hands several times over the past few years, a lot of what I have been doing is following the threads of my predecessors, trying to understand their processes, the choices they’ve made, and their relationships to the thousands of image files that truly compose the heart of this project. For every task that needs to happen to construct the dataset around these images, and to make that data available to researchers, there are dozens of tiny tasks that have to take place. Tasks from, “mark which files have been uploaded to Omeka” and “transcribe the handwriting on the cards into metadata fields” all the way to “defrag the hard drive” and “back everything up.”

    Let me be honest, visual media isn’t actually my area of expertise. Or even my research interest. But! The way people collect, label and organize things is. In case you couldn’t guess, I am a PhD student at the iSchool, rather than in Art History. For me, Decomposing Bodies is an interesting blurring of observing and contributing to how resources get organized and disseminated. I am finding gaps in documentation— what does tag “pass1c” mean?— and creating my own protocols for the project going forward— it means the “Age”, “Apparent Age”, “Born in”, and “Complexion” fields have been transcribed.

    Everything that the VMW does with DB is in preparation for other people to do something else with it later. We have to try and answer questions about how imaginary potential future researchers will want our data to be formatted, and what kinds of questions they might want to ask. The Data (after)Lives exhibit is the beginning of presenting those questions, and inviting conversation around what it means that these cards exist in the first place. My work, for now, is about making sure that those conversations can continue, and that all the pieces of this project are speaking the same language.

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
  • Exhibition poster, designed by Aisling Quigley
     

    Data (after)Lives opens tomorrow!!

    Opening Event: Thursday, September 8th, 4-6pm

    This exhibition incorporates the work and research of Rich Pell (Curator at the Center for PostNatural History), Paul Vanouse, Steve Rowell, Aaron Henderson, and Heather Dewey-Hagborg. Paulina Pardo Gaviria also reinterpets the work of Letícia Parente (1930-1991). Also co-curated by Dr. Alison Langmead, Dr. Josh Ellenbogen, and Isabelle Chartier. Design associates: Aisling Quigley and Jennifer Donnelly. 

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • UAG
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    Picking Up Decomposing Bodies

    The early stage of engaging with a new project is largely a process of establishing context. This is, in many ways, easier to do when the project is already underway. In becoming better acquainted with the Bertillon system and its implementation in U.S. prisons, I have certainly benefited from the work of my predecessors and collaborators. If, like me, you are new to Decomposing Bodies, previous Constellations posts by other project members provide deeply useful project context. 

    In addition to reading about the history of Bertillonage in general, and the background of this project specifically, I have been spending some time transcribing the Bertillon cards of prisoners at the Ohio Penitentiary. This is a necessary task, as it creates machine-readable versions of the information contained in image form on the digitized cards, allowing us to work with the raw Bertillon data. But it also serves as an additional means of beginning to better understand the creation and functionality of these cards, and this system, as part of a larger narrative. 

    When archival records describe a person (or an event or an object, etc.), it's important to regard them as representations of that person (event, object, etc.) as observed and interpreted by the recorder, and not as objectively true. Though much of the Bertillon system of identification relies on numerical anthropometric data, I am particularly interested in the fields in which officers recorded free text to note country of origin (sometimes labeled nativity), complexion, peculiarities (sometimes labeled general features), and build. This is where the "data" of the cards becomes deeply subjective, sometimes inconsistent, and therefore more challenging for researchers. What can we learn about the officers who entered this information? And to extend the question, what can we then learn about the system in which they were operating?

    As someone who is interested in the nature of record creation and management, I am curious about what Bertillonage can tell us about other early systems of standardizing human characteristics. I am also interested in the idea that though a system may be developed to improve information retrieval, that does not prevent the same system from being appropriated for other purposes (see Jennifer's post on Bertillon and the Chinese Exclusion Act). 

    Some preliminary searching through the Ohio Penitentiary and State Reformatory records held by the Ohio History Center reveals some additional material that could be of interest to researchers looking to learn more about the prisoner experience during the period in which Bertillonage was used at the prison. For example, an account book of prison labor, a cashbook of the inmates' earnings, lists of prisoners who were electrocuted, paroled, or pardoned, and perhaps the most macabre items collection, photographs of executed prisoners and of the death house. 

    Examining one record-keeping system in an institution leads me to wonder about concurrent systems employed at these institutions, and about the people responsible for creating those records and thereby inadvertently creating a sort of rough sketch of the prisoners' lives, from their physical attributes to their daily locations and activities, and it seems, to their ultimate means of departure from the prison. These are merely some early thoughts on areas that can be explored in more depth, and I look forward to learning more about both Bertillonage and its situation within a network of prison-generated records over the coming months.  

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
  •  

    Disentangling DB

    Decomposing Bodies is a complex project comprised of complex data. In the past two years, we’ve digitized approximately 3,500 Bertillon identification cards and transcribed about 43,200 discrete data points (1,800 cards with 24 data points per card).

    Preliminary analysis of a small sample of the data (cards #412-948 from the Ohio State Reformatory) already supports some of our nascent theories. For example, our initial encounters with the cards led us to believe that prisoners were not measured in numerical order, although the cards are organized numerically. For example, Prisoner #412, the earliest prisoner documented in the cards at the OHS Archives, was measured on January 18, 1902. The first prisoner with recorded Bertillon measurements is actually prisoner #738 (measured on September 14, 1901). Why would this be the case? Were the Bertillon Officers measuring the long-term inmates inconsistently, on a case-by-case basis, while the incoming prisoners were measured in a more predictable manner?

    Card types are also mysterious. It seems that Card Type 1 (named according to the taxonomy we created) was used more in the early years, but Type 2 and 3 also appear in these initial folders. This is confusing because Type 1 cards were primarily used in the 1890s, yet these measurements were taken in the 1900s. Of the first 80 cards available and digitizable, we found that 53.75% are Card Type 2, 38.75% are Type 1, and only 7.5% are Type 3.

    Please refer to the drawing of the “average inmate” attached to this post to see some average measurements from this cohort. As you can see, the average height is around 5 ft 6 inches or 169.4 cm. Although this seems somewhat short compared to today’s averages, it actually adhered to height averages reported in men born in the 1880s (which was around 169.5 cm). See Max Roser’s webpage: http://ourworldindata.org/data/food-agriculture/human-height/.

    Anyway, these are just some of the emerging questions I've been contending with over the past term. I will be reporting more as we continue to collect data and I attempt to gather my thoughts.

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW

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