Alphonse Bertillon on Stuff You Missed in History Class

Alphonse BertillonDigging through the treasure trove that is Stuff You Missed in History Class, I realized that I’ve failed to mention Sarah and Deblina’s podcast about Alphonse Bertillon. His is such a classic story of success and failure and of course his methods of identification strongly influenced Sherlock Holmes. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Dr. Mortimer tells Holmes:

“No, sir, no; though I am happy to have had the opportunity of doing that as well. I came to you, Mr. Holmes, because I recognized that I am myself an unpractical man and because I am suddenly confronted with a most serious and extraordinary problem. Recognizing, as I do, that you are the second highest expert in Europe—”
“Indeed, sir! May I inquire who has the honour to be the first?” asked Holmes with some asperity.
“To the man of precisely scientific mind the work of Monsieur Bertillon must always appeal strongly.”
“Then had you not better consult him?”
“I said, sir, to the precisely scientific mind. But as a practical man of affairs it is acknowledged that you stand alone. I trust, sir, that I have not inadvertently—”

Although his method of identification based on anthropometric measurements is no longer used, his greatest gift to criminology — the mug shot — remains widely used and is even more popular today thanks to that bizarre entertainment, mug shot magazines.

You may find a direct link to the podcast here, although I would suggest subscribing to SYMHC on iTunes.

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