Exploring Identities in Forensic Biohistory

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Forensic biohistory is the analysis of human remains of the famous and infamous dead from historical (which is to say usually non-medicolegal) contexts, typically for the purposes of establishing positive identification of the remains as belonging to a specific individual (Komar and Buikstra 2008). Whether or not an inquiry can be “forensic” and not medico-legal is subject to debate.1 However, we use the term “forensic” here to differentiate the subject of this chapter from other uses of the term biohistory (cf. Boydon 1990; Brooke and Larsen 2014; Rankin-Hill 1997). For example, unlike Rankin-Hill’s use of biohistory to frame her analysis of the everyday lives of African American individuals from the past, forensic biohistory focuses on the superlative (note that in this context even knowing or suspecting a name associated with a body establishes that superlative quality) and that which engages public imagination. We acknowledge that these are not entirely discrete areas; both present opportunities to contribute to historical consciousness and debate. That said, forensic biohistorical inquiries can involve three different lines of investigation [...]


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