Theses Doctoral

Colonial Detection: Crime, Evidence, and Inquiry in British India, 1790-1910

Mukherjee, Uponita

Colonial Detection tracks the checkered career of criminal detection, a distinct mode of producing knowledge about crime in the nineteenth century, that relied on the cognitive model of retrospective reconstruction. The dissertation traces its emergence and consolidation in nineteenth century British India as a form of inter-departmental bureaucratic work for government agents at the interface of police investigations, magisterial inquiry, and forensic scientific research.

At the same time, it follows the circulation of this model of thinking backward from clues, beyond state institutions, into the domain of popular discourse about crime, investigation, and evidence. Histories of evidence law in the common law world, studied till date as a largely Anglo-American story, tend to focus predominantly on the evaluation of information after they are presented as evidence to judges, juries, and lawyers. Colonial Detection departs from these received histories and recuperates an alternative history of common law evidence from the archives of nineteenth century British India.

With a sustained focus on historical developments in the Bengal Province, it shows how legal norms of evidence and inquiry in the colony were indelibly shaped by the exigencies of criminal ‘detection,’ i.e., the investigation of crime and the production of evidence, far away from criminal courts, and long before the commencement of trials.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Chatterjee, Partha
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 6, 2022