Alphonse Bertillon (1853-1914)Identification anthropométrique, instructions signalétiques,
Imprimerie administrative, Melun, 1893
Collection of the Frick Fine Arts Library, University of Pittsburgh Library System
DescriptionIn 1893, Bertillon definitively set down his protocol for encoding and measuring the human body in the second edition of his book, Identification anthropométrique: Instructions signalétiques. His main impetus for this highly detailed work was to describe a system of identification based on mathematical principles that was essentially infallible, but he also expressed a desire for his scholarship to contribute to the study of humankind:
Is it not astonishing that while there have long existed, under the name of Hippology, special works for the precise description of the forms and appearance of the horse, there has never existed until now, so far as we know, a methodical treatise on the description of the human body [signalement]? (pp. iv)
In part to address this scholarly gap, Bertillon produced, alongside his elaborate procedures for measuring the human body, a similarly complete set of rules for its visual description. He studied the color variations of the human iris and gave explicit names to each so that every eye could be precisely described in words and thus used to further differentiate between individuals. The intricate shape of the human ear, which Bertillon argued was enough to uniquely identify every human being if described with enough precision, received particular attention.
Researchers: Alison Langmead and Josh Ellenbogen