The Criminal Humanities

An Introduction

by Mike Arntfield (Volume editor) Marcel Danesi (Volume editor)
©2016 Monographs XVII, 232 Pages


This groundbreaking anthology examines the phenomenon of crime and our historical understanding – and misunderstanding – of the criminal mind through the lens of the humanities, unpacking foundational concepts in criminology and criminal investigative analysis through disciplines such as the visual arts, cultural studies, religious studies, and comparative literature. Edited by two key figures in this burgeoning field who are also pre-eminent experts in both forensic semiotics and literary criminology, this book breathes new life into the humanities disciplines by using them as a collective locus for the study of everything from serial homicide, sexual disorders, and police recruiting and corruption to the epistemology of criminal insanity. Using a multidisciplinary framework that traverses myriad pedagogies and invokes a number of methodologies, this anthology boasts chapters written by some of the world’s key scholars working at the crossroads of crime, media, and culture as broadly defined.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Contributors
  • Introduction: Rise of the Criminal Humanist
  • Part I. Language & Literary Studies
  • 1. A “notable newe Italionisme”: Providence, Plague, and the Final Words of the Criminally Condemned in
  • 2. Original Gangsta: Self-Conceptualization and Criminogenic Authenticity in Hip Hop Music
  • 3. Metonymy & Mass Murder: Diagnosing “Splitting” Through Automatic Text Analysis
  • Part II. Film & Media Studies
  • 4. Psychopaths in Film: Are Portrayals Realistic and Does It Matter?
  • 5. The Hammer and the Hummingbird: Spectating Crime Inside the Documentary Film
  • Part III. Religious & Cultural Studies
  • 6. Looking Inside the Coffin: An Overview of Contemporary Human Vampirism and Its Relevance for Forensics Professionals
  • 7. A Cop: Jewish Identity, Police, and Prisoners in Contemporary Law Enforcement
  • 8. Killing for Slender Man: The Emergence of an Electronic Gospel
  • Part IV. Visual Arts & Museum Studies
  • 9. Crime as Curation: Understanding Crime Through the Lens of the Museum
  • 10. Crime and the Canvas: Depicting Criminals and Their Punishments in the Visual Arts, from Antiquity to Present
  • Index
  • Series index

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This anthology and the yawning chasm it fills with respect to the practical and applied study of crime—and at the same time the need for the humanities to undergo something of a makeover—did not come about by accident. The scholars assembled here represent a guild of globally recognized experts who, both individually and collectively, have been loosely joined at the forefront of a truly interdisciplinary approach to the scholarship of crime for some time now. They have done so by not only creating but also mobilizing knowledge through the lens of the humanities as the oldest and perhaps the most intuitive of academic traditions. They also all happen to share a common pedagogical tradition grounded in credible, consistent, and publicly responsible research—one that enmeshes the forensic and empirical with the comparative and philosophical. As this anthology will aptly demonstrate through a series of incisive and remarkable essays reflecting original research, these domains should not—and were never supposed to have been—mutually exclusive.

We’re not sure to whom we owe the erroneous assumption, taken for granted in many circles, that the study of crime is relegated strictly to traditional “schools” of criminology as itself little more than an adjunct of sociology at its most pedantic and proscriptive. It tends to be those of equally pedantic and myopic scholarship, and with a dearth of relevant real-world experience, who most vigorously defend the existing model. It is one that, as the scholar-practitioners assembled here can attest, has been of little to no practical service to those actually working in the field.

In subsequently building this ambitious anthology from the ground up, we have sought out contributions from scholars who one might liken to criminological reformers. Not only reformers but pioneers—map makers who are etching out a new criminology while at the same time providing some degree of succession planning for the humanities. Thus, while we naturally recognize ← xi | → the contributions of those earnest colleagues, and in some cases prescient and stalwart students, who helped create this collection and whose bold work is contained herein, we also want to thank those who allowed us to get to this point—to achieve liftoff in the first place. In no particular order we would like to acknowledge Peter Lang Academic Publishing, and in particular Michelle Salyga and Christopher Myers, for recognizing the global importance of the larger literary series for which this title serves as the proof of concept. We would also like to thank the academic members, fellows, and students affiliated with the University of Toronto’s Victoria College and its Centre for Research in Forensic Semiotics—in particular Mariana Bockarova—the members, past and present, of the Western University Cold Case Society, as well as the Northeastern University Collaborative and Listserv for Atypical Homicide, the American Investigative Society of Cold Cases, and the Murder Accountability Project for their support of this project as well as the collective tutelage and peer review provided by some truly extraordinary scholars, scientists, and investigators.

Between Canada and the United States, there are also a number of police officers, forensic practitioners, and specialized regulatory investigators—too many to inventory here, unfortunately—who have provided wonderful insights and who we know will make good use of this anthology. We know they will carry forward its message to the rank-and-file members of law enforcement and related professions who have all too often been let down by criminologists willfully eschewing practical engagement with their work.

With thanks,
Dr. Michael Arntfield & Dr. Marcel Danesi

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Michael Arntfield is associate professor in the Department of English and Writing Studies at Western University where he specializes in literary criminology and forensic writing. He is also a previous visiting Fulbright Chair at Vanderbilt University specializing in law and literature, is a fellow with the Centre for Research in Forensic Semiotics at the University of Toronto, and is co-editor of Peter Lang’s criminal humanities and forensic semiotics collection. A former police officer with over fifteen years’ experience across myriad areas of investigative specialization, he sits on both the law enforcement and academic committees of the American Investigative Society of Cold Cases, the Board of Directors for the Murder Accountability Project, and regularly serves an investigative consultant for government, industry, and media. His other related works include Introduction to Forensic Writing, a manual of style for criminal investigators authoring search warrants and wiretap affidavits; Murder City, a social history of serial homicide in a small Canadian city in the 1960s and 1970s; Gothic Forensics, a survey of key texts in Victorian horror and mystery that served as the literary progenitors to contemporary police investigative techniques; and Practical Criminology, an introductory textbook that advocates a major reform in the applied scholarship of crime.

Victoria Bigliardi is an intern curator and collections administrator at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto and an honors undergraduate student specializing in material culture at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College. Her work has previously been published in the literary journal, Acta Victoriana, and she is the co-president of Metaform, the undergraduate society at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Research in Forensic Semiotics.

John Edgar Browning is a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is internationally recognized for his horror, vampire, and Dracula scholarship, with over twelve published or forthcoming books that include Speaking of Monsters: A Teratological Anthology, ← xiii | xiv → The Forgotten Writings of Bram Stoker, and Zombie Talk: Culture, History, Politics, as well as over sixty published or forthcoming articles, book chapters, and reviews on similar topics. He is widely regarded as a chief expert on real vampirism in the United States and abroad.

Yochai Cohen is a graduate of the mathematics program at the Hebrew University and currently works as a freelance software programmer and computer programming consultant.

Marcel Danesi is full professor of anthropological linguistics, cultural studies, and semiotics at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College. The author of the 2013 monograph, Signs of Crime, he is considered the international pioneer of the now burgeoning field of forensic semiotics. The founder and director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Research in Forensic Semiotics, he is also co-editor of Peter Lang’s criminal humanities and forensic semiotics collection, and series editor of Palgrave-Macmillan’s semiotics in popular culture series. A prolific author and public intellectual, he has served as a visiting professor across Europe and his co-authored book, Made Men: Mafia Culture & the Power of Symbols, Rituals & Myth established him as a preeminent authority on the symbols and ciphers of transnational organized crime groups, street gangs, and serial offenders.

Trevor Grant is assistant professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Regina where he specializes in documentary film and television production and cinéma véritée. He is also a veteran documentarian and television producer whose twenty-year career has featured a number of internationally acclaimed docu-dramas that lay at the intersection of crime and narrative experience. As an acclaimed scholar, director, and raconteur, his work has won awards and nominations from the New York International Film Festival, the U.S. International Film & Video Festival, the Gemini Awards, and the Canadian Screen Awards.

Sonia Halpern is assistant professor in both the Department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research and the Department of English and Writing Studies at Western University. Her research focuses on gender history and on issues of Jewish identity. She is also a recognized art historian and poet whose most recent collection, The Life and Times of Transition Girl (Revised and Expanded), was published in 2015. Halpern’s most recent scholarship has appeared in Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal and Ontario History, and her study on Jewish police has been profiled in The Canadian Jewish News.

Eric W. Hickey is core faculty with the Walden University forensic psychology graduate program and professor emeritus of criminology at California State University, Fresno. The author of numerous books and the current ← xiv | xv → editor-in-chief for the Journal of Police and Forensic Psychology, he is an internationally recognized and court-certified expert in crimes of violence, including serial and mass murder, stalking, and sexual assault. He frequently works on serious and serial cases with law enforcement around the world and has previously served as an investigative consultant on a number of high profile committees and task forces. These include the FBI’s Threat Assessment Regional Evaluation Team, the UNABOMB task force, and the California’s Peace Officer Service Training program. His monograph, Serial Murderers and Their Victims—now in its seventh edition—is widely regarded as the definitive academic treatise on serial and mass murder.

James Johnston is assistant professor of English and Writing Studies at Western University where he specializes in Shakespeare and non-dramatic literature from the Early Modern Period. He also teaches courses on contemporary healthcare writing, organizational and interpersonal professional communication, as well as style and rhetoric. His areas of research interest include sixteenth century health narratives, early modern crime writing, and martyrological literature, including the connection between writing instruction and confessional identity in early modern England. He is the co-author of the textbook, Healthcare Writing: A Practical Guide to Professional Success.

James Knoll is an internationally noted forensic psychiatrist and the director of the forensic psychiatry program in the Department of Psychiatry at the Upstate Medical University, SUNY New York. He is a clinician-scholar-practitioner who has worked extensively with American law enforcement, as well as offenders, and is a leading subject matter expert on civilian mass murder.

Lee Mellor is a lecturer in criminology and sociology at Concordia University and a doctoral candidate specializing in violence as communicative identity. Originally a true crime author, Mellor penned the definitive books on the history of multiple murder in Canada, Cold North Killers: Canadian Serial Murder and Rampage: Canadian Mass Murder and Spree Killing. He is the Chair of the academic advising committee with the American Society of Cold Cases, the editor-in-chief of Serial Killer Quarterly, and has analyzed and drafted behavioral profiles for law enforcement agencies in both the United States and Canada. He is also the lead editor of two recent scholar-practitioner anthologies, Understanding Necrophilia: A Global Multidisciplinary Perspective and Homicide: A Forensic Psychology Casebook.

Yair Neuman is full professor in the Department of Education at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and a previous visiting professor at both Oxford University and the Weizmann Institute of Science. An internationally acclaimed scholar-practitioner, his work rests at the crossroads of forensic psychology philosophy, and cognition. Having served as a chief algorithm designer ← xv | xvi → for the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), and as a recognized authority on the writings of school shooters, he has published several books that blend scholarship in forensic semiotics and language coding with criminal and intelligence analysis, including the forthcoming Shakespeare for the Intelligence Agent: Towards Understanding Real Personalities.

Joan Swart is a scholar-practitioner and forensic psychologist in private practice in South Africa. She is also affiliated with the Apsche Institute where she specializes in mode deactivation therapy and psychopathology among youth. She has served on the editorial board for the American Psychological Association’s International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, is the current editor-in-chief for the Journal of Cold Case Review, and is a behavioral scientist with the American Investigative Society of Cold Cases. She has published several books and journal articles focusing on psychopaths and sex offenders, and is routinely retained as a consultant and expert by law enforcement in both her native South Africa and the United States.

Tieja Thomas is a research associate in the Department of Technology & Innovation at The Conference Board of Canada. She holds a Ph.D. in education from Concordia University where her research program explored the intersections of citizenship education and educational technology. Specifically, she investigated how socio-political phenomena such as hate, violence, and oppression resulting from perceived cultural differences are manifested in online environments. Her doctoral research received several accolades and her current research agenda was recently lauded at the 2015 annual meeting of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education. She currently holds a research grant funded by Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada and is Director of Communication for the Canadian Association for the Study of Women and Education.


XVII, 232
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
Forensic criminology gangsta
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XVII, 232 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Mike Arntfield (Volume editor) Marcel Danesi (Volume editor)

Michael Arntfield is Associate Professor of Literary Criminology and Forensic Writing in the Department of English and Writing Studies at Western University, as well as a previous Fulbright Chair specializing in law and literature at Vanderbilt University. He is also a former police officer and is the founder and director of the Western University Cold Case Society. His PhD (also from Western) was conferred while he was still a serving police detective and focused on police murders in Canada and the United States. Marcel Danesi is Full Professor of Anthropology and Forensic Semiotics at the University of Toronto and a member of the Royal Society of Canada. He is the founder and director of the Centre for Research in Forensic Semiotics and a recognized international authority on semiotics, language, and ritual within criminal organizations, specifically the Sicilian Mafia.


Title: The Criminal Humanities
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254 pages