Ian Burney
  • CHSTM, Simon Building, Room 2.21, Brunswick Street

    M13 9PL Manchester

    United Kingdom

Accepting PhD Students

Personal profile


  • BA, History, Brown University, USA, 1984
  • MA, PhD, History, University of California, Berkeley, USA, 1993

Previous Appointments

  • Visiting Lecturer, Dept of History, UC Berkeley, 1993-4
  • Assistant Professor, Dept of History, and Fellow, Michigan Society of Fellows, University of Michigan, 1994-97
  • Research Fellow, Centre for Social History/Dept of History, University of Warwick, 1997-1999

Research interests

My research and publication activity sits at the crossroads of the histories of medicine, science, the law, and the social and cultural history of modern Britain. My main work has been written up in three monographs.

My first book, Bodies of Evidence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), offers a reinterpretation of the role of scientific and medical experts in the modern democratic state. Focusing on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century debates about the reform of the coroner's inquest in England, it challenges traditional accounts of the rise of expertise by analyzing a fundamental tension between the needs of modern governance on the one hand and the politics of expanding popular participation on the other.

My second book, Poison, Detection and the Victorian Imagination (Manchester University Press, 2006, paperback 2011) links medical, legal and popular understandings of criminal poisonings to ‘the imagination’ as a historically specific analytical construct. Juxtaposing material from forensic medical and toxicological texts, reports from chemical laboratories, treatises on the law of evidence, arguments staged in courtrooms, and literary and other cultural representations of poison and poisoning, it traces out the complex web of thought and practice that made criminal poisoning one of the mid-Victorian period's central anxieties.

My most recent book, Murder and the Making of English CSI (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016), co-authored with my CHSTM colleague Neil Pemberton, tells the story of how one of the most iconic features of our present-day forensic landscape – crime scene investigation – came into being. Drawing on material ranging from how-to investigator handbooks and detective novels to crime journalism, police case reports, and courtroom transcripts, the book shows readers how, over time, the focus of murder inquiries shifted from a primarily medical and autopsy-based interest in the victim’s body to one dominated by laboratory technicians labouring over minute trace evidence.

I have also co-edited two collections of essays on the history of forensic science and medicine. The first, Forensic Cultures, appeared in a special issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (2013). It drew together contributions from historians, sociologists of scientific knowledge, critical legal and media scholars, and forensic practitioners, who focused on the dynamic processes involved in the production of forensic knowledge, offering new insight into the power of, and meanings embedded in, forensic locations, networks and formations. Global Forensic Cultures  (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019, co-edited with Chris Hamlin) explores forensic science in global and historical context. Exploring the profound effect of ‘location’ (temporal and spatial) on the production and enactment of forms of forensic knowledge during the century before CSI became a household acronym, the book explores numerous related topics, including the notion of burden of proof, changing roles of experts and witnesses, the development and dissemination of forensic techniques and skills, the financial and practical constraints facing investigators, and cultures of forensics and of criminality within and against which forensic practitioners operate.

My current project focuses on an intriguing but little-known episode in the pre-history of our present-day fascination with innocence and the criminal justice system. In 1948, the bestselling crime novelist Erle Stanley Gardner convened a group of private citizens who banded together to investigate cases of possible wrongful conviction in the American criminal justice system. For the next decade Gardner used his acclaimed skills as a storyteller and a publicist to draw attention to the Court’s work, and to convince his fellow citizens of the need for them to take an active interest in protecting the sources of American freedoms which, he feared, they took for granted. Provisionally entitled Partisans for Justice: Perry Mason, Erle Stanley Gardner, and The Court of Last Resort, the project opens up a window onto a prior culture of innocence, one composed of historically specific concepts of truth and justice, citizenship, responsibility and agency, legal and political advocacy, the power and limits of expertise, and the use of media to effect fundamental societal change. Partisans for Justice has won competitive funding from the Harry Ransom Center, the National Humanities Center, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.


Ian Burney teaches survey courses in the history of medicine, and more specialized courses in nineteenth and early twentieth century British science and medicine, including "Bodies in History" and "From Sherlock Holmes to CSI: A History of Forensics". He was named the University's undergraduate supervisor of the year for 2016.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

External positions

Research Resources Panel Member, The Wellcome Trust

Jun 201330 Sept 2018


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