First Advisor

Richard Beyler

Date of Award


Document Type

Closed Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and University Honors








The laws that define our social structure are both mutable and sharply defined. Their creation produced the lawbreaker. Whether a society is based on religious or secular foundations, the definition of law requires a contingent that transgresses them. In contemporary society, those lawbreakers are named and identified in multiple ways. The lawbreaker is the "criminal," and that word invites a certain understanding. Thoughts of the "criminal" do not conjure images of our mother or our neighbor; we speculate on muscle-bound men, tattooed and trapped behind steel prison bars, eyes staring out at us like the similarly dangerous tiger captive in our zoos. This criminal, like the tiger, has required management in society. We cannot simply let tigers run free in our cities and towns. We would be eaten! These tigers are running crazy! Politicians must talk about this "tiger problem." Where did these tigers come from? Were they always there, under our noses, ready to leap out and eat us, or were they somehow invited in, required, constructed?

Our "criminal" population did not simply and mysteriously appear, slinking in during the night and surprising an innocent society. The United States went through a specific and involved process of identifying what was criminal, and more importantly for my research, who was (and is) criminal. Scholars, professionals and officials from all privileged walks of American society engaged in the business of identifying and effectively managing the criminal during the early 20th century. National congresses and commissions were directed to examine the prison system and come up with recommendations for better management of that criminal; academic committees and

individuals, in many different contexts, examined body and mind looking for clues to the nature of criminality itself. Physicians, anthropologists and psychologists identified physical and mental characteristics of the criminal and categorized these people within what they held to be a "scientific" taxonomy. The total elimination of crime was sometimes a goal of these studies and meetings; some members of the scientific and academic community recommended that the only path to ending crime was an eradication of the biological criminal, while others had less "final" recommendations. Here we will examine some aspects the proposal of biological eradication, as presented by an academic pursuing the science of criminal anthropology.


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