Daniel Asen Awarded National Science Foundation Grant

This award is to support a research project on the history of fingerprinting in twentieth-century China as viewed from global perspectives. The research focuses on both archival and published materials that were collected in China, Taiwan, and the United States. It will investigate the process through which Euro-American and Japanese fingerprint identification techniques were introduced to China and subsequently adopted for a range of local and national state-building efforts and scientific research activities over the course of the twentieth century. A major objective of this project is to explore the persistent connections which have existed during this period between Chinese fingerprinting and the global history of dermatoglyphics, an international scientific discipline which is concerned with anthropological, medical, and genetic understandings of fingerprint and palm patterning. The main research outcomes of this project will be the collection of historical data and significant progress toward the completion of an academic monograph on this topic. This project thus has the potential to contribute to the developing infrastructure of basic research underlying latent print examination and to assist forensic science practitioners and researchers as they work to strengthen the integrity of the evidence on which the U.S. justice system relies, an outcome of broad societal importance.

Technical Summary

The project will broaden the scope of existing scholarship on the history of fingerprinting, which has largely focused on the role of the British Empire in the development and transfer of modern identification practices across the globe, by focusing on the case of China, which was influenced in equal measure by the fingerprinting practices of Britain and Japan. The main outcome of the project will be the first academic monograph on the history of dermatoglyphics, the core techniques and concepts of the discipline, and the professional associations and networks which have structured international collaboration in this field over the course of the twentieth century. The work will provide a new perspective on the ways in which scientific understandings of racial identity and difference have been negotiated in modern East Asia amid the ethno-racial politics of imperialism, colonialism, and post-colonial state-building which have played out in this region. This project will thus deepen scholarly understandings of the technical, political, and disciplinary factors which have made ethno-racial identity and difference such enduring concerns in the modern life sciences.

For more information visit the NSF website.