New Zealand Law Society - Book looks at forensic psychology in pre-War Germany

Book looks at forensic psychology in pre-War Germany

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University of Canterbury senior history lecturer Heather Wolffram has published a new book which examines the emergence and early development of forensic psychology in Germany from the late 19th century until the outbreak of World War II.

Forensic Psychology in Germany, 1880-1939: Witnessing Crime is published as an e-book by Palgrave Macmillan (ISBN 978-3-319735-94-8, €103.52).

“My book looks at how and why the psychology of the witness, particularly the child witness, became important in German courtrooms in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Germany,” Dr Wolffram says.

“It uses a number of sensational murder and sex crimes trials to look at how psychological expertise was applied in court and asks why forensic psychology appears to have gone into decline under the Nazis.”

Dr Wolffram says her book shows that the kinds of debates that emerged in the 1990s around the reliability of repressed memories and juvenile witnesses, were not new and had been rehearsed in German courtrooms as early as the 1890s.

"My work demonstrates what some of the consequences of these earlier debates were for the treatment of juvenile witnesses and the fortunes of forensic psychologists.

She says that initially envisaged as a psychology of all those involved in criminal proceedings, this new discipline of forensic psychology promised to move away from an exclusive focus on the criminal to provide a holistic view of how human fallibility impacted upon criminal justice. The book argues that by the inter-war period, forensic psychology had largely become a psychology of the witness; its focus narrowed by the exigencies of the courtroom.

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