Few parts of the human body have played such a central role throughout modernity as the peculiar little lines on the tips of our fingers. But how did the fingerprint come to be the most decisive marker of individual identity?
The history of fingerprinting is one that, like its object of study, takes many twists and turns. Anthropologists, criminologists, novelists and artists of various kinds have all taken part in it. The way this history commenced, however, remains somewhat of a mystery. Some historians have pointed to the work of the British wood engraver Thomas Bewick, who has created some of the first artistic representations of the fingerprint. Others prefer a more scientific orientation and draw attention to the peculiar dissertation of Jan Evangelista Purkinje, in which the first scientific classification of the marks of our hands is presented. The Czech physiologist spoke about the art of individualization. This talk attempts to reconstruct the moment of birth of this new form of art; a form of art that incessantly and up to the present day plays a central role in identification techniques.
Geertjan de Vugt is a writer and Coordinator of Arts & Sciences at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and currently IFK_Guest of the Director.