Extracting meaningful data from decomposing bodies

Alison Langmead, Paul Rodriguez, Sandeep Puthanveetil Satheesan, Alan Craig

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


We present Decomposing Bodies, a digital humanities project that examines the late-19th-century system of anthropometrical measurement introduced in France by Alphonse Bertillon. "Bertillonnage," as this system is commonly known, was the first measurementbased, state-controlled system used for criminal identification. Currently, researchers resort to the tedious manual transcription in order to study the data on these cards in bulk. Here, we propose an end-To-end system for extracting handwritten text and numbers from scanned Bertillon cards in a semi-Automated fashion and also the ability to browse through the original data and generated metadata using a web interface. The proposed system will enable historians and humanities researchers to study the data produced by the Bertillon system with much more ease than ever before. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first system that has tried to automate Bertillon card analysis through the application of existing handwritten digit and word recognition methods. We present our current results on performing document analysis on a selected set of scanned Bertillon cards from the Ohio State Reformatory and Ohio Penitentiary. We conclude with a few recommendations for increasing the likelihood of success for collaborations between Computer Science and Digital Humanities researchers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPEARC 2017 - Practice and Experience in Advanced Research Computing 2017
Subtitle of host publicationSustainability, Success and Impact
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
ISBN (Electronic)9781450352727
StatePublished - Jul 9 2017
Event2017 Practice and Experience in Advanced Research Computing, PEARC 2017 - New Orleans, United States
Duration: Jul 9 2017Jul 13 2017

Publication series

NameACM International Conference Proceeding Series
VolumePart F128771


Other2017 Practice and Experience in Advanced Research Computing, PEARC 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNew Orleans


  • Bertillon cards
  • Bertillonnage
  • Criminal identification history
  • Digital humanities
  • Document analysis
  • Handwritten number recognition
  • Handwritten text recognition
  • Information management history
  • OCR
  • Visual and material culture studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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