Choyang Ponsar on The Forensic Imaginary

08 Jun, 2021

Choyang Ponsar on The Forensic Imaginary

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, Choyang Ponsar worked on Tory Jeffay's A Forensic Imaginary. Read more about her experience below.

I got the opportunity this spring as an undergraduate student to work under Ph.D. candidate Tory Jeffay on A Forensic Imaginary. Newspaper research was the main capacity that I was involved in, particularly in regards to matters of the transition from anthropometric modes of measurement such as bertillonage to the modern-day fingerprinting system, historical attempts at recidivism prevention, and calls for the maintenance of ‘public hygiene’ (read: crime suppression) as a precursor to modern-day uses of visual evidence in law and policing.

I was first tasked with reading approximately 25 years' worth of proceedings from the International Association of Chiefs of Police to first familiarize myself with policing practices in the United States within the time period of 1895 to 1920. I made sure to pinpoint any instance that film(s), movie(s), motion picture(s), photography, and most importantly “rogue’s galleries” were brought up and subsequently created an extensive document that summarized the rationale in the reports behind each mention. Parallel to this undertaking, I sorted through, categorized, and labeled hundreds of archival images from the Bancroft Library of the personal writings, professional correspondences, and evidential photographs (i.e. fingerprints, bullets, hair samples) taken by Edward Oscar Heinrich, a prolific 20th-century scientific criminologist whose forensic lab was based out of Berkeley until his death in 1953. I ended up learning how to effectively utilize Adobe Acrobat’s optical character recognition software program during this time to convert the portion of Heinrich’s collection that was of articles, notes, and letters into standard PDFs. That way they were more readily accessible and legible for later examination. Lastly, I got the chance to transcribe handwritten court proceedings relating to erased writings which helped me brush up on my cursive reading skills for the first time in over a decade.

My experience these past few months was undeniably valuable in that it was the first time that I as a first-generation college student was able to work on graduate-level research. The new methods of archival documentation that I was exposed to were quite eye-opening for me as an Interdisciplinary Studies student who will soon be pursuing a senior capstone and I’m incredibly grateful to Tory for her unbounded patience and support this semester.