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About Forensic Humanities

A Search for Truth in the Liberal Arts Tradition

Forensics is the activity of presenting evidence and argument before an audience in order to make a persuasive case for a position or point of view.  In the legal sense, forensics has to do with evidence and argument related to authenticating an object, event, or phenomenon before a court of law (for instance, verification of authorship of literary texts). Forensic science involves the development of "scientific" evidence—the science behind crime scene DNA, for example, is exactly the same that would be deployed in a (civil) paternity suit, and the same scientist who would testify about a car at a crime scene would be testifying about his reconstruction of an accident in a civil liability suit. 

From the perspective of the humanities, forensics can be understood as the consideration of the human faculty of understanding, reasoning about, presenting, evaluating, and discerning evidence, argument, and story with the end of inviting a desired belief or affective state in an audience. Much as medical humanities addresses the lived human experience of health, medicine, and wellness from a rich, textured foundation of literature, poetry, philosophy, rhetoric, and other humanities fields, we offer forensic humanities, an approach to human engagement of evidence, argument, and story/narrative that follows the liberal arts in their commitment to critical and constructive thinking, reasoning, engaging, and communicating ideas.

Forensic humanities is concerned with the discovery and communication of truth. As forensic activity takes place, its participants come to a shared understanding of truth either through practices designed to discern truth or through taking part as an audience at a forum in which an account of truth is shared. In the case of legal argument, a persuasive argument leads its witnesses to particular beliefs or actions. Forensic argument is also at work as a persuasive public performance leads its audience either toward particular beliefs about the truth or toward an aesthetic or affective state. In each case, the selection, arrangement, and presentation of material shape an audience’s response to the case laid before it. Through engaging arguments or participation in communal practices, participants in forensic activity come to embrace a particular understanding of events as true or beautiful.

Forensic Humanities as a Secondary/Supporting Major or Minor

A secondary/supporting major in Forensic Humanities at Duquesne University includes courses that deal with (1) evidence, argument, establishing the factual basis for an event, object, or phenomenon, and the human reasoning and belief process, (2) arrangement of information, story, and related elements to generate an aesthetic or affective state, and (3) practices that allow for communal discernment of truth and conversation across multiple traditions for the purpose of seeking and communicating a shared understanding of truth.