Disentangling DB


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). 

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.

  • Decomposing Bodies
  • Graduate Work
  • VMW