Historicizing CSI and its Effect(s): The Real and the Representational in American Scientific Detective Fiction and Print News Media, 1902–1935

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Over the past decade, CBS's hit television show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has been characterized as novel and innovative, as one of the first times forensic science was made palatable to a popular audience. Because of its subject matter and its popularity, the show has also sparked debates about the effects of scientific representations. In this essay, I contend that both CSI and its potential effects would be better understood as part of a longer genealogy, one that accounts for debates concerning the real and the representational in American scientific detective fiction. Using a mixed methods approach from literature and science studies, I contextualize CSI via several other cultural 'texts': American scientific detective fiction (1909-1919) and a historical newspaper archive concerning anxieties about fictional portrayals of scientific detective work (1894-1935). By triangulating CSI and its effects with earlier representations of scientific detective work and their uptake in print news media, I draw attention to similarities between historical and contemporary debates: the relative worth of the real and the representational, the role of the media in identifying and/or constructing American anxiety about forensic science and detective work, the relative authority of (forensic) science and the police, and the differing standards of judgment for science and law.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-148
Number of pages16
JournalCrime, Media, Culture
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2011



  • CSI effect
  • forensic science
  • literature and science
  • scientific detective fiction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Law

Cite this