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How did fingerprinting become such an important identification technique? 


What are the larger contexts – historical, social, political, scientific and technological – that have given fingerprints so much importance today?


On what scientific basis does the forensic use of fingerprinting rest?


These are some of the questions that you will learn about on this website, which provides materials for teaching the history of fingerprinting in secondary and college-level humanities, life sciences, and forensic science classes. These materials draw on publications associated with this National Science Foundation-funded project on the history of fingerprinting in China as well as other peer-reviewed scholarship in this field. A detailed description of the teaching materials provided on this website and their intended uses can be found here



Image: FBI Media: Original caption: “FBI Jacksonville Evidence Response Team members test a portable electronic fingerprint scanner during a training exercise. This technology can be used during searches to capture and cross reference fingerprints for a match within national databases.”


Learn more about the history of fingerprinting by exploring the following modules:



Image: Harris Hawthorne Wilder and Bert Wentworth. Personal Identification: Methods for the Identification of Individuals, Living Or Dead. Boston: Richard G. Badger, The Gorham Press, 1918, 37. Public domain.

Short video lectures on the history of fingerprinting are available below.


Each video has a corresponding set of multiple choice and true/false questions that instructors can use to evaluate students’ comprehension of the material. Instructors should email for these materials.  











Image: Francis Galton. Finger Prints. London: Macmillan and Co., 1892, Plate 15, Figure 22, following p. 96. Public domain.

Peer-reviewed publications associated with this project – most of which are available free-of-charge – are listed below:


Daniel Asen. “Knowing Individuals: Fingerprinting, Policing, and the Limits of Professionalization in 1920s Beijing.” Modern China 46, no. 2 (2020): 161-192. Link


Daniel Asen. “Fingerprints and Paternity Testing: A Study of Genetics and Probability in Pre-DNA Forensic Science.” Law, Probability and Risk 18, nos. 2-3 (2019): 177-199. Link


Daniel Asen, “Secrets in fingerprints: clinical ambitions and uncertainty in dermatoglyphics.” CMAJ 190, no. 19 (2018): E597-E599. Link


Daniel Asen. “‘Dermatoglyphics’ and Race after the Second World War: The View from East Asia.” In Global Transformations in the Life Sciences, 1945–1980, edited by Patrick Manning and Mat Savelli, 61-77. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018. Publisher website


Image: Harold Cummins and Charles Midlo. Finger Prints, Palms and Soles: An Introduction to Dermatoglyphics. New York: Dover Publications, 1961, 62. Used with permission. Image courtesy of Dover Publications.


Feedback welcome!


Note: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.