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Rachel Kathleen Watson
Howard University (Washington, DC 20059-0001)
Race and Forensic Science in American Literature, 1894-1959

A book-length study of the relationship between race and forensic science in American crime fiction by Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Rudolph Fisher, Richard Wright, and Chester Himes, 1890s-1950s.

Capturing the Individual argues that in crime fiction of the segregation era, forensic science takes an unexpected turn—one of undercutting the ideology of inequality that animated Jim Crow. Located in the body but independent from and even contrary to the typifying ideology of race, the “biological individual” posited by forensics ran counter to theories of black criminality and essentialist race science by depending instead upon notions of a biological equality. This book project claims that through forensic preoccupations in the crime novels of Mark Twain, Rudolph Fisher, Richard Wright, William Faulkner, and Chester Himes the humanity of the black individual is not only asserted through sentiment and psychology, but is, more radically, marked as a fact already “self-evident”—a forensic certainty that “speaks for itself.”

[Grant products]

Project fields:
African American History; American Literature; Legal History

Awards for Faculty

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
8/1/2017 – 7/31/2018