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During and after the First World War, several commissions were appointed by various states to establish the veracity of facts related to acts of violence committed during the conflict. These commissions followed a precedent established by a similar investigation after the Balkan Wars financed by the Carnegie Foundation. Most likely the first of its kind, the investigation carried out in the Balkans heralded new practices that would be later normalised in the first world conflict. In the aftermath of the war, various commissions were formed to evaluate the acts committed on the Eastern fronts. These delegations were often composed of diplomats or lawyers and occasionally accompanied by members of the Red Cross. They collected eye-witness statements and documents and personally visited the sites to assess the damage produced by the conflict. But in addition to these early methods, was the use of techniques from legal medicine and criminology. Some governments directly called on forensic doctors and criminologists to confirm the facts. These types of investigations were the first steps in legal medicine or the forensic science of war. The mass graves, battlefields and missiles were brought under intense scientific scrutiny.

This three year research project aims to understand the genesis of the investigation commissions on war crime in the global framework of medical intervention in the war context. Their operating procedures and the work they carried out in the field reveal the first steps of a practice located at the crossroads of medicine, law and politics. The acts of violence that experts aim to establish, just like the techniques and knowledge to which they resort, reveal their own conceptions of violence. Rather than supporting the narrative of the atrocities committed, the idea is to show how they were viewed scientifically, also from the beginning. Furthermore, it is important to measure how the introduction of scientific and medical approaches affected the political and medical spheres.

Research Team

Mark Harrison

Centre Co-Director

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Taline Garibian

Postdoctoral Researcher

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Related research themes