Gabrielle Clement on New Media Technology in the Courtroom

19 Jun, 2020

Gabrielle Clement on New Media Technology in the Courtroom

The BCNM is pleased to offer several undergraduate research fellowships each year. Undergraduates are paired with our graduate students, who mentor them in research methodology. This year, Gabrielle Clement worked on Tory Jeffay's New Media Technology in the Classroom. Read more about her experience below.

The “New Media Technology in the Courtroom” is a project that investigated the use of microscope, stereopticon, and photographic enlargement technology in the late nineteenth century. For this project, I focused on three court cases—the James G. Fair trial, Sharon v. Hill, and Howland will forgery trial— to understand how these technologies are used in the courtroom. This research required extensive time exploring the characters who participated in these courtroom trials, and how their relationships to the legal system relied on these early uses of microscopes, stereopticons, and photography. This project proved to me how reliant the legal system is on recently developed technology and the “experts” who employ the tools in order to find the “truth.” Even before the twentieth century, early media technology and its developments are intertwined within the legal system in the United States.

My primary role in the project involved collecting and categorizing primary resource materials and reading through court cases and historical accounts of people involved in the legal trials.Many of these cases revolved around claims of handwriting and signature forgery on wills that occurred in San Francisco. I read through newspaper clippings held at the Bancroft Library, the California Historical Society, and online databases like After the collection and organization of primary resource materials, I created timelines and summaries of the different court cases. It is important to note the chronology of the technological use in each court case, in order to later cross-check and analyze timelines of other cases. This way, there can be a more broad historical analysis of the use of microscopes, stereopticons, and photographic enlargements in the courtroom.

Before this project, I already had archival and primary resource experience, mostly architectural and photographic records. During this project, I learned a lot about newspaper and courtroom archival documents, and how to best access and organize these kinds of material for collaborative and long-term research. Before this project, I knew little about technological use in late-nineteenth-century courtrooms, and I am now more familiar with and understand the courtroom's significance as a space for innovative technology. Microscopes, for example, were used to explore incongruencies in handwriting. Furthermore, because of the novel coronavirus that affected Spring 2020, I learned the importance of digital archives—because without them, I would not have been able to continue researching this project! Thank you to my mentor, Tory Jeffay, for allowing me to join this wonderful project!