South Atlantic Crossings: Fingerprints, Science, and the State in Turn-of-the-Century Argentina

In the course of one of the most infamous murder cases in late nineteenth-century Argentina, prosecutors obtained in 1892 the world’s first criminal conviction based on fingerprint evidence. Immersed in the ghoulish facts of the case, in which two small children were stabbed to death in their beds, the coastal villagers of Necochea in Buenos Aires Province hardly noted this high-water mark of transatlantic science. But it was from here that the first practical applications of fingerprinting burst forth, a vital eddy in the currents of people, ideas, and technologies surging across the Atlantic at the turn of the century. The case had been initially vexing: no one had seen the crime, and interrogations had yielded contradictory evidence. Amid the gore, however, was a single bloody fingerprint left on a doorjamb. How, short of finding blood on the suspect, could a match be proved? Several days into the investigation, the detective in charge, Eduardo M. Alvarez, shocked observers with a novel brand of evidence, a method of linking finger marks to police records of known or suspected criminals. He demonstrated a match between the bloody mark and the prints of the children’s mother, Francesca Rojas, who promptly confessed to the crime.

Just months before, a local police scientist named Juan Vucetich, who had recently emigrated from Croatia, had developed a new classification and filing system for fingerprint records that made possible the pairing. Confronted in his daily work with rising numbers of crimes as the Argentine population grew increasingly heterogeneous, urban, and mobile, Vucetich effectively focused his attention on the means of comparing prints from a crime scene with ever-expanding individual identification records. The genius of his system of “dactyloscopy,” as he called it, was not its accuracy (detailed examinations of finger marks were by then common) but the efficiency with which his classification system could be married to an emerging bureaucratic archive of individual fingerprints. The ability to classify and retrieve large, if not unlimited, numbers of record cards had many potential applications beyond crime solving. Civil uses, he argued, ranged from general population records to prostitutes’ registers to immigrant tracking systems. As news of the successful use of fingerprint evidence to solve the Necochea child murders—a full ten years before such evidence was used in criminal trials in London and Paris—spread through legal and political circles, Vucetich was hailed first locally and then abroad. Argentina’s scientific community, self-consciously peripheral, basked in its newfound prestige as a cradle of advanced criminology.

No one knew better than the Argentines that the development, implementation, and dissemination of fingerprint technology was a distinctively transatlantic scientific event. Historians of the United States and modern Europe have recently documented the significance of the linkages and cross-fertilization of ideas across the Northern Atlantic that shaped social policy, legislation, and state formation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They revealed how ideas and their applications evolved not in sterile theoretical laboratories but by virtue of their vigorous empiricism, and through their interaction with diverse, fertile local contexts.1 In the process, these ideas were transformed more often than not as they were carried back and forth between the Americas and Europe. We know much less, however, about South Atlantic crossings and the science of Latin America.2 Shrouded in assumptions about remoteness, poverty, and Catholic traditionalism, the mere existence of world-class science in Latin American nations had to be “discovered.” Pathbreaking studies have shown that science can travel in many directions, that excellence can originate outside the intellectual centers of the North Atlantic.3 Histories of developments in high-altitude physiology and the discovery of the yellow fever vector, for example, require us to consider the venues of scientific innovation.4 Such events, however, have been understandably recounted as national triumphs. Here, I will argue that they are better understood as part of a complex Atlantic crossings process. In a post-Columbian world, ideas, like biological agents, move and transmute in complex ways and in multiple directions.5

Among many untold stories of exchange between Europe and South America, I offer here one episode that not only belies common myths of “peripheral science” as purely imitative and underdeveloped but also extends southward the important story of collaboration between scientists and modernizing state-builders. Argentina’s contribution to modern fingerprint science does not fit our traditional model of scientific progress, which sees a “diffusion” of ideas largely from center to periphery.6 Under that model, the precocious development of fingerprinting in Argentina might be explained as the result of chance immigration from Europe of a clever and creative mind. But, as this article will make clear, Vucetich’s dactyloscopy was at once part of a new “scientific” and intercontinental approach to social problems and a very particular response to the local problems of crime in Vucetich’s adopted country. The early application of dactyloscopy reveals a chapter in the history of the free-flowing exchange of novel ideas and state practices, not only from east to west but also west to east and from south to north. The story of the Argentine contribution to the now ubiquitous technique of fingerprinting was staged in a Latin American nation that was intimately connected to the northern scientific world, poised to exploit one of the world’s richest economies, and led by a forward-looking class of state-builders bent on a thoroughgoing modernization. If that sounds similar to developments in the youthful United States, it should, for Argentina at that time was one of the most robust of the South American republics and has offered historians a rich field of comparison to its northern neighbor’s own story of scientific and cultural exchange with Europe.7

Vucetich’s work was part of a transatlantic scientific conversation, but its success was rooted in the empirical opportunities of the Argentine environment. As has often been remarked by historians of natural science, and above all medicine, new world sites such as Argentina offered an open field to experimental scientists.8 This was no less true for the emerging “science” of crime and other social problems such as prostitution, alcoholism, and political violence. Far from being a barren or primitive cultural and intellectual landscape, Argentina was a veritable hothouse for scientific innovations essential to the era’s state-building projects. With its uncharted terrain, “exotic” populations, and novel social and political formations, it enjoyed observational data unknown to the old world. Argentina’s educated and trained scientists who came of age after 1880 were intimately shaped by the dramatic political events of their times, and they in turn directed some of that nascent state’s most consequential projects. Chief among them was this postcolonial state’s effort to harness the surging forces of mass immigration and rapid economic expansion. The social “pathologies” plaguing France, Germany, the United States, and other nations—increasing crime, urban crowding, ethnic factionalism, social and class conflict—were to be found in extreme form in Argentina. Moreover, its oligarchical political culture and less seasoned constitutional structures gave elites with scientific credentials far greater influence and power. It was these two elements—the Argentine state’s strong urge to engineer order at a time of tumultuous social transformation wrought by its accelerated modernity, and its strong support of science—that created a fertile field for the development and application of fingerprinting.

No mere catalogers of new world flora and fauna, these scientist-reformers and their vocabulary of social engineering were at the heart of Argentina’s reformist moment. As elsewhere in the Atlantic world, the increasingly authoritative methods and rhetorical structures of science were embedded in the processes of state formation and modernization.9 Liberal state-builders believed that, due to the nation’s rich natural resources and their European ancestry with claims of racial superiority, they deserved membership in the circle of advanced, “civilized” nations. The key to that membership, as they and their foreign colleagues saw it, lay in the application of “modern” and “scientific” principles in government and economy. At the end of the nineteenth century, the promise of science seemed infinite, and they were convinced that the application of precise, measurable, and “objective” approaches to state formation was the best way to achieve progress, civilization, and even greatness.10

The triumph of Argentine dactyloscopy illuminates brightly if singularly the dynamics of the expansion of disciplinary institutions during a key period of liberal and democratic state-building.11 The story begins with a sketch of the fertile transatlantic field of social pathology in which the young Vucetich put down his intellectual roots and sought to apply the diligent empiricism of the natural and medical sciences to social problems. I then follow the immigrant scientist to the frontier post of Argentina, where his passion for systematic and empirical observations of social pathology placed him in the employ of the provincial police’s scientific office. It is here that the intersection of scientific theory and institutional imperatives of the Argentine locality begins to emerge. Next, I describe the system he created to classify, organize, and retrieve fingerprint records, a method that was recognized in its day and can today be understood as “excellent” science to the extent that it met the needs of emerging modern societies, of which Argentina was one of the most volatile and fragile. Finally, I show the impact of Vucetich’s system on various levels. On the local and national level, the application of fingerprinting, now a property of the state, did not reflect precisely what Vucetich had advised. Beyond Argentina, I describe how dactyloscopy reentered the transatlantic sphere; there, Vucetich’s better-known colleagues recognized it for the scientific advance that it was, and gave it a place alongside the arguably better-known British system developed by Edward Henry in 1897.

The spark that Vucetich started and that took flame in Argentina flickered and wavered in other contexts, but it eventually joined with parallel efforts to become a universal practice. Once it was recognized as a simple and useful tool for the file cabinets and bureaucrats of the modern state, dactyloscopy epitomized the promise of novel scientific systems to answer the needs of specific local and national police forces, immigration bureaus, and other public agencies. As important as the combination of scientific rhetoric and technique was Vucetich’s particular contribution to crime stopping: the bright light he held up for state bureaucracies. Throughout the Atlantic world, Argentina’s work on fingerprinting spoke to modern states’ desires to tame the unprecedented, threatening, and often “foreign” social forces, which, as planners knew all too well, could propel their societies towards either greatness or ruin.

Ivan Vucetic was born on the Dalmatian island of Lesina, off the Adriatic coast of Croatia, in 1858. He immigrated to Argentina, adopting the name Juan Vucetich, as he would be internationally known, at the age of twenty-six. It would be interesting to know more about Vucetich’s background, but there is a dearth of information on his life before his appointment to the Argentine police. It is likely that he came from an educated background in his native Croatia, for within four years of his arrival, he was hired into the scientific wing of the Buenos Aires provincial police. His first post there was to direct the Monthly Statistical Bulletin, which collected arrest and crime statistics for the province, and a few years later he was hired to run the Office of Identification. Vucetich followed in the long tradition of European explorers and adventurers drawn to the new world, with its rich and abundant natural and social formations.12 Scientists emigrated from Europe to the Americas and back again, often in search of new ground for scientific observation. These scientists came equipped with the most recent theories, approaches, and objectives defined in the northern metropolitan centers, but they were highly aware of the fresh data that the new world offered them. They thus arrived ready to measure, study, and cure the local populations but also expected to develop and generate new theories based on their data.

While little is known about Vucetich’s life or education before his arrival in South America, a great deal is known about his intellectual milieu. Men like Vucetich received their training, traveled in, and occupied an international scientific community. Science was the lingua franca of an intellectual and political elite on both sides of the ocean. In their view, objective, empirical observation, in the words of French philosopher Auguste Comte, was the only reliable means of reflecting and understanding the “positive facts” of nature, including human nature. Especially in the second half of the nineteenth century, thanks to advances in rail and transoceanic travel, the emergence of scientific journals, and the sponsorship of practical science by liberal states, linkages between scientists intensified to the point where they could speak of an international community. In some fields, rivalries (or “schools”) developed that tapped into the surging nationalism of scientists and politicians who sought national recognition and advances from scientific discoveries. On a deeper level, however, most scientists saw their work as part of a larger stream of discoveries that would advance universal knowledge and the greater good. One branch of science that enjoyed a widespread and conspicuous success was medicine and public health. Physicians had seen during the course of the eighteenth century not only increasing social status and professional organization but also a number of impressive victories over disease and pestilence. Among the dramatic developments were discoveries in “tropical” medicine—the identification of new diseases as well as cures for known ones in exotic locales.13

Excited by stunning victories in disease control, including the discovery of new vectors and new treatments, late nineteenth-century scientists turned to medicines for cures for the social body. Giving urgency to these discussions on both sides of the ocean was a set of by now well-documented anxieties about the social pathologies emerging alongside modernity—the real and imagined specters of social turmoil, urban decay, and crime.14 Vucetich’s work emerged from this larger intercontinental conversation about social pathology that was informed by the rise of empiricism, statistics, classification, and biology, especially Social Darwinism. Propelling this movement was the conviction that new problems needed new solutions. Physicians, social scientists, and legal scholars alike filtered social pathology through biological lenses, leading to the rise of medical, anthropometric, and deterministic approaches.

“Criminal anthropology,” as the new positivist discipline was known, coalesced out of a trans-European intellectual movement investigating the causes of criminal, antisocial, and anti-national behavior.15 It distinguished itself from the so-called classical school of criminology, elaborated by Cesare Beccaria and others in the late eighteenth century, by emphasizing the supposedly “scientific” (as opposed to metaphysical) basis of its theory; by its focus on the individual offender and belief in the lack of free will in criminal behavior; an emphasis on “humane” approaches to criminals, replacing punishment with “treatment”; and finally by its concern with “social defense,” or a privileging of social stability over individual rights. In Europe, the inventors of criminology had attained both scientific and political status by 1880. In Italy, the leading crime theorist was Cesare Lombroso, who was succeeded by his student Enrico Ferri. The 1876 publication of his Criminal Man (L’uomo delinquente) was understood as a turning point in approaches to crime.16 Lombroso’s main—and most controversial—contribution to criminological theory was his idea of the “born criminal,” a type of human being believed to represent a distinct species, “homo delinquens.”17 Regardless of their stance on the biological origins of criminality, Lombroso and his critics alike considered crime to be a “natural” and inevitable problem, like illness, but also preventable if approached scientifically. Europe produced experts who famously developed aspects of the criminological enterprise, among them the French police scientist Alphonse Bertillon, the Austrian criminalist Hans Gross, and the British polymath Sir Francis Galton.

Such men were attractive to states that sought to contain what many citizens perceived as a rising tide of crime and social danger riding the heels of modernity.18 They felt that scientists and governments could cooperate to eliminate, or at least mitigate, the effects of criminality. In turn, the state became the paying client of the self-designated social pathologists. Legislatures supported the development of new methods of healing an ailing social body while vesting the practitioners with extraordinary power to control their patients. A new “science” based on immutable features of the body and devoted to protecting social norms from encroaching waves of crime appealed to legislators and bureaucrats in a wide range of Atlantic states. Burgeoning cities and the arrival of large numbers of immigrants in many countries raised the specter of criminals who could escape detection by hiding in sprawling slums behind a wall of foreignness. One of the most imperative perceived needs was for tools to combat the anonymous or “hidden” criminal. Governments began building up their criminal justice apparatus, including police, prisons, and court procedures, in the mid-nineteenth century as part of a broader attempt to rein in those threatening forces.

Recidivism, anonymity, and dissembling surfaced as the most dangerous features of modern crime. Penal reformers hoped that techniques of identification could be used in concert with the latest classifications of criminal types to register members of groups most likely to commit crimes and, if possible, to discourage them in advance of their antisocial acts. Prior to the 1890s, however, most scientists and officials had rejected fingerprints as hopelessly complex and unfileable.19 The best-known method of criminal identification before 1900 was “Bertillonage,” an anthropometric system involving highly specific measurements of body parts. Created by French police scientist Bertillon in 1879, it consisted of eleven precise body measurements taken with specially designed tools. These were then recorded on identity cards and filed according to a complex series of cross-references. Even though Bertillonage was widely used (often in conjunction with fingerprints), most officials outside France soon recognized that it, in the words of U.S. scientist Raymond Fosdick, “had its obvious defects,” since its efficiency relied on consistency among technicians and subjects.20 Police officials had no way to identify suspects other than this cumbersome method, which led many of them to fear a breakdown of the system. Scientists such as Galton tried many times without success to create a usable system of archiving fingerprints, a necessary step to applying them for mass use. This crisis would eventually clear a path for fingerprinting, but, until the turn of the century, fingerprints remained a holy grail of police methods, promising simplicity in identification that was just out of reach.

Against this backdrop of transatlantic tension and scientific engagement, Juan Vucetich arrived in Argentina and took his position with the provincial police of Buenos Aires. La Plata, the provincial capital, was a boomtown in the nation’s most prosperous region. It benefited from the wealth flowing through it from the pampas to the port. Yet La Plata was an inauspicious site for scientific innovation. It was a cultural and intellectual satellite of cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, a mere thirty-five miles to its southeast. In Argentina, as in many former colonies, all roads led to the central city. As Vucetich rose through the ranks of the police, he became a bureaucrat fluent in the theoretical research issues at stake and focused on the activities and needs of his colleagues and collaborators in the capital city. Part of the overlapping circles of the national intelligentsia and the political elite, he rubbed shoulders with the top research scientists in Buenos Aires, sharing the podium at conferences and providing crime data and fingerprints for experts in the city. The scientific community—criminologists, forensic experts, pathologists, and statisticians—he met with in Buenos Aires was not a sleepy one. The university enjoyed rapid expansion, research institutes were forming, and scientific publication booming. Argentine scientists in all fields were excited that they had under their noses an abundance of valuable data. They hoped to show the rest of the world’s scientists that empiricism knew no nationality by producing world-class research.

While today this South American country is often plotted on the distant shore of the scientific world, it was at the turn of the nineteenth century a much larger and promising station in the ocean of transatlantic ideas. Latin American and North Atlantic scientists alike recognized researchers in the up-and-coming nation, particularly in the fields of public health, physiology, and anthropology, as well as criminology and criminalistics, for their increasing status. The Argentine state in turn took pains to promote its investment in science by sending ambassadors and reams of published research abroad. Coming largely from the privileged class, Argentine scientists had the linguistic skills, the resources for travel, and, not least, the motivation to contribute to international scientific knowledge.21 Being among the most educated members of their society, they had much in common with their North Atlantic counterparts; they hailed largely from the liberal and reformist wing of the elite and upper middle-class intelligentsia and sought to advance democratic, progressive reforms in public health, education, and the law. Thanks to their close cultural and social connections to the seats of power, they had a disproportionate influence on government policies forged in the first decades after national consolidation in 1880. At this time, too, Argentine scientists consciously built a scientific infrastructure—universities, research institutes, and government agencies—that they thought essential for the development of a nation that wished to rival the awesome pace of its northern neighbor, the United States. Forward-looking state officials in Argentina were equally determined to exploit “science”—broadly defined as modern engineering techniques, public health campaigns, and new educational and penological regimes—to achieve monumental national goals, commonly understood as democratic progress and peaceful modernization.22

This intellectual community was connected to Europe through scientific conferences, travel, and study abroad. Its members also subscribed to numerous journals in multiple languages, which they housed in the National Library, at the university, and in reading rooms of scientific societies and professional organizations. Most Argentine scientists were multilingual and understood the necessity of writing and speaking in French, Italian, and English. Especially in this period, communication and collaboration between European and Latin American scholars expanded. The primary form of communication was the international scientific congress, a critical component of the production and dispersion of scientific knowledge. As participants, Argentine scientists could demonstrate their nation’s knowledge, while taking home powerful new ideas and approaches from the more mature scientific establishments of Europe. Moreover, Argentine delegations to international conferences, often composed of government appointees, understood the congresses as an important opportunity to gain prestigious backing for their social reform plans back home. Their empiricism had a purpose—to study local problems of a social nature.23

Vucetich’s professional world in booming La Plata was integrated into the national modernization project and was inhabited by people aware of the practical exigencies of maintaining the social order. Starting in the 1870s, the country underwent a rapid burst of modernization fueled by mass immigration and an economic boom (based on cattle and wheat exports) that rivaled that of many North Atlantic societies at the time.24 The Argentine state experienced a parallel process of stress and ultimately a wholesale political reorganization, a process that accelerated after national consolidation in 1880. Riding this wave of development was a new generation of political reformers. They had come into power after the reorganization of 1880 with a bold program of rebuilding the state and society on modern, rational grounds. The intellectual members of the oligarchy, exemplified by physican-bureaucrats such as Eduardo Wilde and José María Ramos Mejía, favored models of economic progress and modernization on the European model. They were also staunch secularists and converts to Enlightenment thought as it evolved at the end of the nineteenth century. Enamored with European theories such as positivism, they worshiped science as the only true avenue to national salvation. The ranks of this progressivist movement included public figures of all professions, who, united in their confidence, were certain that out of science and reason they could “make a great nation.”25

Chief among the state’s new responsibilities was the policing of its borders. Turn-of-the-century Argentine society was marked by class and ethnic tensions, as wealthy elites sought to tame the torrential waves of immigration after 1870. Between 1871 and 1914, nearly 6 million immigrants arrived, about half of whom remained in the country. Buenos Aires was especially transformed by the population explosion. Government policies aimed at increasing population hoped to shuttle new arrivals to the countryside to fuel the nation’s agricultural boom, but they did not make land available, and most immigrants chose to remain in the big cities, Buenos Aires in particular. The percentage of foreign-born residents of the city, already a notable 36 percent in 1855, increased dramatically to 52 percent by 1895. By 1914, nearly 50 percent of Buenos Aires’s population was foreign born, a higher proportion than any other immigrant city at that time, including New York. The majority of these immigrants were working class and Italian or Spanish born; in 1914, native Italians represented 39 percent of foreign-born Argentine residents, and Spaniards comprised over 35 percent.26 Elite state and nation-builders looked to Europe as a source of settlers for their vast country, but in seeking to attract newcomers they ascribed to a hierarchy of European “races” that assumed Northern Europeans to have natural, inborn traits superior to those of Southern Europeans. This putatively biological distinction between social groups inspired the oft-repeated preference for North European immigration and the simultaneous scapegoating of the majority of newcomers for rising social problems.

Large-scale immigration shaped anxieties about modern mass anonymity. Ironically, the immigrant was at once the nation’s food and its toxin, driving the new economy and its bid to become a powerful nation but at the same time threatening to destroy all it achieved. State-builders hoped to find the right alchemy of immigration to keep the country in equilibrium. To do so, they relied increasingly on experts to determine the balance, and elite discourse about immigration was rife with theories then fashionable on the European continent. Scientists were excited by the challenge to study the features of this unprecedented social phenomenon. In their view, criminal immigrants to Argentina were especially dangerous—they may have been from the same genus as other delinquents but were a more advanced species.

Argentines may have turned increasingly to a view of crime and immigration as national problems, but they believed that the answer to their “backwardness” lay in North Atlantic–style industrialization, secularization, and modernization in education, criminal justice, and housing, and most of all a thoroughgoing program of social hygiene. Accordingly, the reception of European theories of criminality took place within the context of a nearly universal embrace of positivism and socio-medical approaches among Argentine intellectuals. They adopted this far-reaching European philosophy as the main tool of their “civilizing mission.” Foreign theories of crime, especially those popular in Italy and France, were enthusiastically taken up by Argentine scientists, even though they claimed to transcend them. In addition, the racial concepts of Social Darwinism, influential in nearly all fields both in Europe and America after 1860, were popular among Argentine criminologists. The ideas of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer had been in vogue in Argentina since the appearance of On the Origin of Species in Spanish in 1877. As elsewhere, in Argentina, biology lent increasing legitimacy to social ideas.27

In 1890, Vucetich advanced to the head position in the Office of Identification at the provincial police. His move from statistics to identification signaled a new phase in hands-on policing as well as a shift in emphasis from “diagnosis” to “cure” in his work. He viewed his labors in the police force as scientific in the positivist sense—objective, measurable, and verifiable. In his view, the scientific approach carried forth in his laboratory could directly address what he and many other state officials saw as Argentina’s symptoms of social pathology, crime foremost among them. This stage had several dimensions to it, including Vucetich’s work as an individual scientist; the institutional and bureaucratic reception of dactyloscopy; and, finally, state patronage on the national level, or the nationalization of his system. The remainder of this article will describe these phases. The newly opened office followed Bertillon’s meticulous system of body measurement, notation, and classification.28 As the official in charge of the filing and day-to-day application of this byzantine record system, Vucetich became convinced that modern police forces needed a more effective method.29 In 1891, after reading an article about Galton’s work on fingerprints in the French journal Revue scientifique, Vucetich began advocating the use of fingerprints as a clearly superior method to Bertillonage.30 His recommendation to the provincial police of Buenos Aires to adopt fingerprinting made him the first public official in the world to replace the dominant anthropometric methods with fingerprint identification. His influence was felt immediately. In 1891, the Identification Service was installed in the provincial prisons of Buenos Aires, where officials strove to record and archive prints of all potential recidivists, including each prisoner and all arrestees in police stations.31 One year later, the governor of Buenos Aires Province, Julio Costa, mentioned in his official address to the provincial legislature that fingerprinting had been added to the anthropometric system.32

At the same time, however, Vucetich also found that Galton’s system, with its three-part organization of finger pads, was too general to be of any use. Vucetich, who thought of Galton as the “father of fingerprinting” and considered himself but an improver and proselytizer of the system, had within a few months done what Galton could not—he created a universal classification scheme based on a manageable number of subdivisions of finger pad patterns. Initially calling it icnofalangométrica (derived from the Greek term for “finger track measurement”), in 1896 he renamed his revised system with the more accessible term dactiloscopía (Latin for “finger description”). The name change reflected not only a streamlining in classification of types of fingertip patterns but also a shift from scientific measurement of fingerprints to classification—the difference between the observation and study of information and its ordering in a useful way.33 Vucetich’s innovation was to subclassify loops, for example, identifying an “internal” inclination, or tracks leaning to the left with the outer ridge to the right of the observer, as well as the reverse, “external” inclining loops. Vucetich’s simple classification consisted of the assignment of four single letters (AIEV) to thumbprints and numbers (1234) to the types of marks on the remaining four fingers. An individual’s fingerprints could thus be classified, filed, and easily located by each finger’s code. For example, the designation V2443 meant (from thumb to pinky) whorl, inner loop, whorl, whorl, outer loop. Finally, Vucetich used a secondary classification to further subdivide sets of fingerprints, in which he assigned five subtypes to each of the four primary types. Then, he added an additional distinction to each by counting the ridges between the core (the point at the center of the pattern) and the delta (the outer ridge of the core pattern) on two of the fingers and adding them in parentheses to the fingerprint code.34 It was the limited number of these subdivisions that rendered his method of fingerprinting viable for mass identification and classification. The subclasses of patterns were few enough to be easily defined, yet diverse enough to be filed and selected, or easily matched. After fingerprinting, police officials would analyze and type each print, recording the five-digit code on an identification card that held a photograph or other personal information. An officer would then file the cards by their print type in multi-drawer cabinets, each drawer clearly labeled. Record cards were copied and sent to police stations in other cities, or even other countries, to aid in prosecuting criminal cases and in identifying at-large recidivists.

In 1896, Vucetich announced his new system in a pamphlet entitled “General Instructions for the ‘Province of Buenos Aires’ System of Identification.”35 Mindful of his intellectual debt to Galton, Vucetich sent the British scientist his article and wrote in his accompanying letter: “In my capacity of Chief and Founder of the office of Statistics and Anthropometric Identification of the Province of Buenos Aires, I have the satisfaction to share with you that the Provincial Police are in the only state in South America that has implemented fingerprinting.”36 In reply, Galton acknowledged the Argentine’s breakthrough improvements to his efforts, writing, “it is a great satisfaction to learn that you have found the Finger Print Method to be of real, practical service.” His next words revealed a grudging acceptance of the techniques and also foreshadowed the difficulties that Latin Americans—no matter how well funded by their local institutions—would have establishing a place for themselves in the international community of scientists: “My knowledge of Spanish is unfortunately too limited to enable me to properly read your volume, but I have understood its main features and fully recognized the great pains you must have taken to compose it. It affords another instance of that statistical zeal for which Buenos Ayres is so justly renowned.”37

No doubt stung by Galton’s patronizing response, Vucetich was nonetheless confident that once scientists and police officials around the world heard of his system they would adopt it, and he persisted in promoting dactyloscopy as a universally comprehensible system of identification. He argued that his method was compatible with the needs of large-scale, urban police forces, whose case loads might number in the thousands and whose suspects might have crossed the Atlantic many times. He predicted in 1901 that fingerprinting would soon become a “universal police language.” Three years later, Vucetich published Dactiloscopía comparada, a book he hoped would convince not just local officials but the international community as well of what he considered dactyloscopy’s unique ability to provide that universal language. Dedicated to Galton but subtitled “The New Argentine System,” the book described as its goal “to set a new course in modern personal identification, an urgent and arduous problem of universal necessity.”38 It also represented Vucetich’s hope that dactyloscopy could enhance his adopted country’s international reputation. Argentina’s role in this process, he believed, was confirmed by the fact that more and more North Atlantic scientists, such as Galton, were beginning to recognize the applicability and advantages of fingerprinting. In an appendix to Dactiloscopía comparada, he reprinted letters of praise for his method from three preeminent figures—Galton, Lombroso, and Gross—all attesting to his international reputation.39 By 1904, Vucetich could proudly claim that “today, all the well-organized police departments on earth use [fingerprints] … The Province of Buenos Aires was the first of them … Our police have obtained a complete success.”40

From his post in the criminal identification service, Vucetich was able to work closely with provincial officials, and also with the powerful Buenos Aires city police. Together, these two police forces were central to the security of the entire country, as they protected the nation’s main port and its largest, wealthiest, and most populous region. With the consolidation of the national government after 1880, the Buenos Aires police forces had grown in strength and power. The two departments were also seen as Argentina’s most “modern” police corps; their mission, according to Luis M. Doyenhard, chief of police in La Plata at the start of the century, was to develop a “scientific” response to the dominant problems of the age: “social, political, and economic instability.”41 The nation’s main criminology journal, the Archivos de psiquiatría y criminología, stated in 1907, “Among the new sciences, without a doubt, police studies are the most modern … [I]t could be called the most eminent of the current sciences.”42 This view expressed the growing state interest in building and modernizing the police as a critical front line against mounting working-class mobilization and social unrest, trends seemingly accentuated by transatlantic migration. 26
Police officials, like other government leaders, had become alarmed in the face of mass immigration, rapid population expansion, and the emergence of the urban crowd. Crimes of all sorts appeared to be on the rise as well, and observers linked this trend with the highly visible mobs of foreigners clogging the city streets. These phenomena had transformed Argentina into a country of “strangers,” a condition that, according to criminologists, held the seeds of disorder. Just as in its first successful case, which resulted in the conviction of the murderous mother Francesca Rojas in 1892, fingerprinting promised to solve or prevent crimes that had elusive, unlikely, or dissembling suspects. With ink, rollers, and identity cards in hand, officials hoped to track criminals and potential delinquents with a newfound proficiency. The immigrant nature of Argentine society raised the specter of newcomers with dubious pasts entering the nation, disappearing into ethnic enclaves, and carrying out acts of violence or sabotage. But police officials were not only concerned about crime because they feared it would retard national progress. Perhaps even more terrifying was the disruption of the social order represented by recent immigrants claiming their piece of the national wealth or, even worse, massing into an increasingly vocal labor and left-wing movement. Sharing or merely sensitive to the concerns of the elite, police paid special attention to the potential for social revolution and linked it to “racial” factors generally believed to have a bearing on crime.

Officials relied on new technology combined with a racialized definition of criminal types that spoke to the new needs of the non-intimate, non-local society that Buenos Aires had become.43 As the perceived need to distinguish individuals from the amorphous mass reached its peak, fingerprinting promised to isolate them and see through their false identities. Guillermo J. Nunes, the chief of police of the Province of Buenos Aires, reported in 1891 on the difficulties of criminal investigation, “given the constitutive elements of our population, essentially heterogeneous and cosmopolitan.” He explained that the province was “composed of men from all parts of the globe, who belong to various nationalities and distinct races, with ignorant life habits, native tendencies, peculiarities, characteristics … whose forms are consequently unknown to the majority of agents. This difficulty, in most cases, can cheat success in important investigations.”44

Since the police began collecting crime statistics in the late 1870s, their principal preoccupation was with nationality, representing their underlying hypothesis that immigrants were largely responsible for crime. As early as 1884, a capital city police report blamed a crime wave on the nation’s newcomers. It stated, “foreign immigration, in which of course the laborious element predominates, brings—sometimes as an exception and others in organized groups—individuals with deplorable backgrounds.”45 The capital police positioned themselves as critical to the nation’s advancement by promising to maintain public order and discipline the unruly crowds of immigrants that threatened it. Observations of strikes, demonstrations, and other disturbances took on a “scientific” cast as the police documented and compiled statistics on the participants.46 The capital police categorized all of their incident reports by national origin; for example, they routinely separated “argentinos” from “orientales” (Uruguayans), “rusos,” and “italianos.” Their preoccupation reflected then-common ideas linking Spaniards, Italians, and Jews with criminal tendencies. Political orientation was another new area of focus, and labor activism itself was classified as a criminal activity. Starting in the late 1890s, they added a new item in the category of “crimes against the social order”: anarchist violence and terrorism, which they linked to immigrants as well.47

Police reports and correspondence reveal that virtually all officials in the capital and province of Buenos Aires embraced dactyloscopy by the mid-1890s. Early skepticism from within the ranks of the police was swept away within a few years.48 Police officials praised dactyloscopy for its organization and accessibility. Nunes, for example, called in 1892 for both a universal system of identification and for the sharing of data on criminals throughout the country.49 In 1894, Bibiano S. Torres published a pamphlet aimed at convincing police chiefs around the country to use the Vucetich system of identification. He wrote of dactyloscopy, “If the police … has as its mission the maintenance of the public order, liberty, individual property, and security …, we have proposed to bring to the government’s awareness an improvement that we consider a very necessary complement to police service.”50 In 1895, police official Ernesto Weigel Muñoz recommended dactyloscopy over Bertillonage, pointing out that the old anthropometric cards caused great confusion among different officers due to vague and imprecise information.51 In September 1901, Buenos Aires City Police Commissioner of Investigation José Rossi wrote his chief, Francisco Beazley, about a lecture he had attended by Vucetich and then reported in detail the differences between dactyloscopy and Bertillonage, pointing out the relative simplicity and ease of the Argentine system. He recommended its general adoption as “an acquisition of a new universal language, simple and efficient.”52 Two years later, Rossi oversaw its introduction to the Buenos Aires city police. He wrote to Vucetich requesting books and instructions, after which he mandated the adoption of dactyloscopy.53 Police officials in the capital began soliciting Vucetich regularly for advice, instruction, and the loan of fingerprint records.54 In celebrated cases, they exchanged prisoner fingerprint files by telegram to snare fugitives.55

These new possibilities of identifying and tracking criminals fed the enthusiasm of officials such as Rossi, who as chief of police in 1907 called Vucetich’s work “one of the greatest discoveries in applied policing in recent years.”56 The capital police’s investigative division hoped to utilize dactyloscopy to carry out its mission to maintain public order, “by means of knowledge, preventative observation, and repression of socially disruptive elements,” in other words, to expand the practice to the non-criminal population.57 Officials in the capital city police expected to increase the number of records; indeed, in 1916 alone, they took 141,691 fingerprints, bringing the total to 619,553 records (of a total city population of about 1.5 million in 1916).58 They had demonstrated the ease with which they could take prints from large numbers of people in a short period of time. Buoyed by the triumphs of dactyloscopy on the part of the police, state officials recognized that its use in court trials was only one, relatively modest application of the new technique. As officials began to think more broadly, they began to realize the promise of fingerprinting to help exercise state discipline in jails, prisons, public spaces, and at the nation’s borders.

Armed with a new identification technique, police joined forces with their partners in law enforcement, the nation’s legislators. Thanks to journalistic accounts trumpeting the novelty of dactyloscopy and its use in high-profile cases, as well as important meetings between officials in the province and the capital, political leaders joined forces with police to apply it on the federal level to specific national problems. Some recommended the broadest possible civic applications of fingerprinting. In 1909, Luis Reyna Almandos, one of Vucetich’s most influential followers, suggested that the government apply dactyloscopy in nearly every realm of human experience—births, deaths, and marriages; public testimonies, legislation, and contracts; public health, welfare, residency; and in the control of prostitution and vagrancy.59 Beginning in 1916, bolstered by their national successes in police work, Vucetich and Reyna Almandos spent years lobbying first the provincial and then the national government to create a national register of fingerprints.60 Constitutionalist objections delayed the creation of such a register until 1935, but a program of targeted fingerprinting of select groups proceeded at full speed. This moment revealed both the ambitions that state-building modernizers had for fingerprinting as well as its dangers. Exciting as the new therapy was, it presented the risk of, as its critics pointed out, the violation of civil liberties and discrimination against “honest” immigrants.

While proponents endorsed the new dactyloscopy as “egalitarian”—objective and independent of social and racial circumstances or past behavior—they in fact proposed its use above all on the immigrants, whom they believed made up the heterogeneous, anonymous, and dangerous crowd. In this sense, their efforts partook of both nationalist and cosmopolitan impulses, at once breaking down and strengthening national borders. The most influential of dactyloscopy’s supporters in the regulation of immigration was Vucetich’s devotee Reyna Almandos, a prolific writer on dactyloscopy himself. He commented in 1909: “Until Vucetich’s invention and its diffusion in the civilized world, neither the individual nor society relied on this defensive weapon. Its absence gave way to the rule of injustice, confusion, error, and finally legal crimes … Vucetich’s system tends to consolidate all aspects of social order.” The most urgent area in this regard, according to Reyna Almandos, was in regulating immigration and the deportation of undesirables. He noted, “The influx of foreigners to our land results in grave problems. Welcoming them as one of the greatest benefits, we feel nonetheless the need to create laws and establish regulations in order to impede the entrance of pernicious elements that raise the crime rate.” Reyna Almandos suggested that Vucetich’s method could be used to impede the flow of criminal immigrants by establishing offices of identification at all of the nation’s points of entry. Incoming persons’ fingerprints could then be cross-checked with international records of those with criminal pasts. He also suggested that the expulsion of “dangerous” foreigners, mandated in the 1902 Residence Law, would be more effective with the use of fingerprints. “Completing this identification with [the fingerprints] of the immigrants,” he wrote, “expulsion could never be faked [that is, avoided].”61

Police and other government officials were also increasingly convinced that large-scale, mandatory fingerprinting of immigrants was a necessary complement to the exclusionary Residence Law. In promoting that view, they did not just target foreign criminals but all newcomers.62 In 1908, Nicéforo Castellano sent a copy of a proposed law to create a National Identity Office, containing an article establishing the routine recording of foreigners’ personal information as well as fingerprint exchange with foreign offices. He called for the identification of “those immigrants who desire a citizenship card,” since “our laws demand morality and good habits in conferring the privileges of citizenship … [T]he manner of searching for that background is to identify them.” He recommended the routine fingerprinting of immigrants in third class passage, warning that recent criminal and anarchist events, such as the bombing of the elegant Colon Theater, were reminders that the state needed to be vigilant. Argentina tempted the criminal population with what Castellano cited as a set of “unique conditions, already recognized before disembarking,” including unexploited land, available jobs, and a tolerant state and liberal constitution that promised to protect them.63

Four years later, in 1912, the national immigration service incorporated fingerprinting into its procedures. At the same time, the government established the “Dactyloscopic Register of Immigrants” (Registro Dactiloscópico del Inmigrado) as a repository for immigrants’ fingerprint records. Upon entering the country, most newcomers were given a numbered “immigrant’s book.”64 This passport-like document, which included information about their rights and responsibilities, held a place for personal description and a fingerprint. The immigration service ordered officers at the Office of Work and Dispatch and the Immigrants’ Hotel to compile extensive personal identification data for each immigrant. The form they used, titled “Description of the Immigrant,” included anthropometric data and fingerprints. Each form was linked by number with the booklet issued to the immigrant. Newcomers were required by law to carry their identification book with them at all times; without it, they could claim no protection under the law. While officials hoped to use dactyloscopy to stop criminal “bad seeds” at the borders and permit entrance only to assimilable, productive immigrants, in practice it served primarily as a warning to immigrants of their subordinate status to the state.65 The goals, in the words of the “immigrant’s book,” were the “assimilation and permanent rootedness” of the foreign population.66 It was a tangible reminder of the requirements of participation in Argentine society—a broad disciplinary device wielded at entry to all newcomers regardless of their past.

The fingerprinting of immigrants and convicts provided a template for state bureaucracies to increase their control and surveillance of the population at large. It eventually opened the path for the expansion of state power over all citizens’ behavior and movements. While the impact of these techniques was not uniform or totalizing, it represented a key moment of state power.67 Notwithstanding the unforeseen or unintended outcomes of the application of many state practices, in the period examined here it is clear that, through the novel technology of fingerprinting, Argentine state-building bureaucrats funded in a short time the development of tools to mark outsiders, track them, and at times expel or jail them. In the name of “progress” and “civilization,” moreover, they had devised a means to send a clear corrective message to the rest of the population.

Perched in the provincial police and immersed in Argentina’s accelerated conditions of modernity, Juan Vucetich well understood that the Atlantic was a system of migratory movement. He repeatedly insisted that in order for dactyloscopy to truly succeed, nations beyond Argentina’s borders would have to apply it universally and uniformly. He knew the interconnected nature of Argentine crime and structures abroad. Proposing to help nations track people across borders, he anticipated the advent of international policing bodies such as Interpol and its international fingerprint database.68 As he lobbied for the application of universal fingerprinting in Argentina, Vucetich simultaneously proselytized abroad. From La Plata, he corresponded regularly with police officials, scientists, and government officials in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. He was especially close with other Latin American police scientists, including Felix Pacheco, the chief of identification in Rio de Janeiro, one of the most enthusiastic promoters of dactyloscopy. At regional police congresses, they explained the Vucetich system and often did public demonstrations together.69

By the first decade of the twentieth century, at the time when most North Atlantic countries started using fingerprints more consistently, Vucetich was a household name in international police circles. Most scientific commentators in Europe viewed Vucetichism favorably when compared with Bertillonage, and on equal footing with the Henry system.70 One year after Vucetich had published his 1896 article, Edward Henry, a British colonial administrator in India, introduced a system that was similarly based on Galton’s ideas. With three basic categories of print types, as opposed to four in the Vucetich system, the Henry system was considered by many experts to be less convenient. In a typical assessment, French rapporteur M. Dastre wrote in 1907 that, compared with Henry, “the definitive progress appears to have been realized by M. Vucetich.” Some specialists argued strongly for conversion to the Vucetich system, which they believed was technically superior.71

Vucetich traveled widely to North America, Europe, and Asia, hoping to spread his method throughout the “civilized world” by visiting foreign police departments and presenting his system at international conferences. His main goal at such meetings, beyond advocating universal fingerprinting, was to convince representatives of other governments to establish “Intercontinental Identification Offices” to facilitate the exchange of criminal records. His plan had resonated strongly in Argentina, where a growing number of officials saw their country, with its multiple points of entry, as permeable and vulnerable. But fingerprinting had obvious applications in other countries as well, for example, the United States, with its own migratory waves, and the colonial outposts of the various European empires. In 1913, Vucetich suggested that Argentina could provide a model for others.

I have been able to observe in this great country [the United States] that the lack of connection of the [identification] service with national needs is notorious, owing to the independence of each state, which establishes its own service without any possibility of coordination. The result of this is that a fugitive criminal, by merely removing from one state to another, is sometimes more secure than if he had emigrated to another hemisphere where a uniform system of identification is in vogue.72

A world tour in 1913 increased Vucetich’s visibility. A report of that year’s meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) described his status in the international community: “The chiefs had the opportunity to hear an address by Juan Vucetich, one of the famous first names in fingerprint identification. Mr. Vucetich … had earned his place in history by devising an original system for classification and filing of fingerprints, which he implemented at the Argentine Bureau as early as 1891. This was several years before the Henry System came into use in Britain.”73 The Vucetich system made inroads to regions far beyond its borders, as dozens of police departments around the world imported it wholesale or used elements of it for classification purposes. It dominated South America, was adopted by the Peking (Beijing) City Police after a personal visit from Vucetich, and was applied in modified form in at least twenty-one other countries. Observers in the early twentieth century noted that the dispersion of the two competing systems broke down along language lines: Vucetich dominated the “Latin” world (including Italian and Portuguese-speaking countries), Henry ruled the English-speaking world (including police departments in a number of U.S. cities), and all other countries were split between the two.74 In 1917, the president of a Chicago criminal justice school offered him a teaching position with a respectable salary.75 His strong presence in the field led one commentator to remark in 1942 that “the simplicity of the Vucetich method is readily apparent … [T]he considerable popularity it has attained is attested to by its extensive adoption.”76

While Argentina’s turn-of-the-century political culture offered rich incentives for its development and adoption, officials in other countries did not embrace dactyloscopy with the same enthusiasm until some years later. Imperatives of the nascent federal state in Argentina, such as the rapid search for new technological solutions to racialized social problems, mass immigration, and political unrest, had encouraged the funding of state offices that would deploy those new disciplinary tools. A combination of prosperity, immigration, and an infatuation with scientific solutions created a hothouse environment in which the development and implementation of modern fingerprinting flourished. It was in this setting that the modern techniques of surveillance and social control were worked out, anticipating broader international concerns about immigrants and the mobility of criminals.77

Argentines took pride in the knowledge that they pioneered the creation of Vucetichism, a practice that marked a turning point in global police methods and expanded in due course any state’s ability to track, control, and confine its citizens and visitors alike. The “success” of Argentine dactyloscopy, trumpeted as it was by nationalists, had its dark side as well. The formation of powerful paradigms like the universal reliance on fingerprint identity not only highlights the role of social and political exigencies in scientific “discoveries,” it also reminds us, across the board, of the dangers of vesting in our scientists omniscience about social problems. As this story of science crossing borders shows, the intertwined relationship of scientific knowledge and political imperatives, while representing a genuine step forward for forensic science, had both intentional and unforeseen consequences on the ability of immigrants and citizens alike to move freely in society.

I would like to thank the staff of the Archivo Vucetich at the Museo de la Policía de la Provincia de Buenos Aires in La Plata, Argentina, for access to police documents and Juan Vucetich’s professional papers; Osvaldo Barreneche provided invaluable help in La Plata as well. Partial research support was provided by National Science Foundation grant no. SBR–96–16935. I am grateful to Charles Forcey, Jr., for his excellent suggestions. Sven Beckert, Simon Cole, Marcos Cueto, Eliga Gould, Frank McCann, and Orlando Rodriguez contributed thoughtful feedback; Nancy Leys Stepan and Herbert S. Klein read an earlier version. In addition, I would like to thank the AHR editors and anonymous readers for their insightful comments. I presented a portion of this article at the 1999 meeting of the American Historical Association. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from French and Spanish are mine.

Julia Rodriguez is an assistant professor of history and women’s studies at the University of New Hampshire, Durham. She received her PhD in history from Columbia University in 2000 and has published previously on medicine and gender ideology in Argentina at the turn of the last century. Rodriguez is currently completing a book on the centrality of science and medicine to liberal state formation and modern disciplinary practices in Argentina, tentatively titled Civilizing Argentina: Science and the State against Barbarism.


1 Notable recent studies on the transatlantic exchange of ideas in the modern era, focusing mostly on United States–European relations, include Daniel T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Cambridge, Mass., 1998); James T. Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870–1920 (New York, 1986); Axel R. Schafer, American Progressives and German Social Reform, 1875–1920: Social Ethics, Moral Control, and the Regulatory State in a Transatlantic Context (Stuttgart, 2000). See also Elisabeth Gläser and Hermann Wellenreuther, eds., Bridging the Atlantic: The Question of American Exceptionalism in Perspective (Washington, D.C., 2002).

2 Recent scholarship in Latin American history has begun to challenge the centrality of the North in transatlantic history as well as the assumption that the Americas were primarily recipients of European ideas. See Jeremy Adelman, Republic of Capital: Buenos Aires and the Legal Transformation of the Atlantic World (Stanford, Calif., 1999); Gil Joseph, et al., eds., Close Encounters of Empire: Writing the Cultural History of U.S.-Latin American Relations (Durham, N.C., 1998). On the flow of ideas from the new world to the old, see Antonello Gerbi, The Dispute of the New World: The History of a Polemic, 1750–1900 (Pittsburgh, 1973); and two books by Germán Arciniegas: America in Europe: A History of the New World in Reverse (San Diego, Calif., 1986); and Cuando América completó la tierra (Bogota, 2001). Moreover, Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra provides an excellent discussion of how the term “West” excludes and marginalizes Latin America; see How to Write the History of the New World: Histories, Epistemologies, and Identities in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Stanford, 2001), 10.

3 Historians of science have rightly placed technological innovations within their larger social context, looking to politics, economics, and culture as equally consequential as individual brainpower in the discovery of new ideas. A number of recent studies of Latin American science have illustrated that economic privation or “underdevelopment” does not necessarily result in mediocre science. In certain settings, a confluence of ingenuity and institutional and societal patronage produced not only equally recognized knowledge but also arguably a more “practical” science. For examples of this literature, see Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World; Marcos Cueto, Excelencia científica en la perifería (Lima, 1989); Cueto, “Laboratory Styles in Argentine Physiology,” Isis 86 (1995): 228–46; Stuart McCook, States of Nature: Science, Agriculture, and Environment in the Spanish Caribbean, 1760–1940 (Austin, Tex., 2002); Julyan Peard, Race, Place, and Medicine: The Idea of the Tropics in Nineteenth-Century Brazilian Medicine (Durham, N.C., 1999); Nancy Leys Stepan, “The Hour of Eugenics”: Race, Gender, and Nation in Latin America (Ithaca, N.Y., 1991).

4 Marcos Cueto, “Andean Biology in Peru: Scientific Styles on the Periphery,” Isis 80, no. 4 (1989): 640–58; Nancy Leys Stepan, “The Interplay between Socio-Economic Factors and Medical Science: Yellow Fever Research, Cuba, and the United States,” Social Studies of Science 8 (1978): 397–423.

5 Alfred W. Crosby’s scholarship drew our attention to the historical significance of the migration and exchange of biological organisms (including humans, animals, plants, and pathogens) as well as cultural forms; see The Columbian Exchange: The Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (Westport, Conn., 1972); and Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (New York, 1998).

6 Social scientists in the 1970s, influenced by dependency theory, dubbed Latin America, Africa, and Asia “peripheral” to the scientific “centers” of Western Europe and North America. For analysis and revision of this view, see Cueto, Excelencia científica en la perifería; Elena Díaz, Yolanda Texera, and Hebe Vessuri, eds., La ciencia periférica: Ciencia y sociedad en Venezuela (Caracas, 1983).

7 For comparisons of Argentina, the United States, and other lands of recent settlement, see D. C. M. Platt and Guido Di Tella, Argentina, Australia, and Canada: Studies in Comparative Development 1870–1965 (New York, 1985); Carlos H. Waisman, Reversal of Development in Argentina: Postwar Counterrevolutionary Policies and Their Structural Consequences (Princeton, N.J., 1987), chap. 3; Luis Roniger and Carlos H. Waisman, Globality and Multiple Modernities: Comparative North American and Latin American Perspectives (Portland, Oreg., 2002).

8 At times, Latin American scientists and philosophers recognized this advantage, referring to their lands as open and fertile compared to a rigid, stultified old world. Cañizares-Esguerra found that eighteenth-century scientists, historians, and philosophers of the Spanish colonies had a similar understanding of their environment; How to Write the History of the New World, 7; see also his article on Spanish-American racial theories, “New World, New Stars: Patriotic Astrology and the Invention of Indian and Creole Bodies in Colonial Spanish America, 1600–1650,”AHR 104 (February 1999): 35.

9 I more fully explore the relationship between scientific and medical rhetoric and practice, the expansion of the state, and control of citizenship in my forthcoming book, tentatively titled “Civilizing Argentina: Science and the State against Barbarism.” The legacies of the turn of the century, a foundational period in the growth of disciplinary ideology and institutions, continued to place Argentina on the extremes of the modern state forms. Ironically, attempts to secure social order under both liberal and authoritarian twentieth-century regimes (up to and including the hygienic rationales for repressive practices during the military dictatorships of the 1940s and 1970s) originated in the exuberance and radicalism of this earlier “positivist” moment. For a similar interpretation of the paradoxes of nineteenth and early twentieth-century “liberal” reforms in Argentina, see Ricardo Salvatore, “Death and Liberalism: Capital Punishment after the Fall of Rosas,” in Salvatore, et al., eds., Crime and Punishment in Latin America: Law and Society since Late Colonial Times (Durham, N.C., 2001). On the paradoxes of modernity in particular for women, see Kristin Ruggiero, “Honor, Maternity, and the Disciplining of Women: Infanticide in Late Nineteenth-Century Buenos Aires,” Hispanic American Historical Review 72, no. 3 (1992): 353–73; Lila Caimari, “Whose Criminals Are These? Church, State, and Patronatos and the Rehabilitation of Female Convicts (Buenos Aires, 1890–1940),” Americas 54, no. 2 (1997): 185–208; Donna Guy, “Parents before the Tribunals: The Legal Construction of Patriarchy in Argentina,” in Elizabeth Dore and Maxine Molyneux, eds., Hidden Histories of Gender and the State in Latin America (Durham, 2000), 172–93.

10 Argentina, like many large countries, has its own version of manifest destiny reaching back to the earliest years of independence. Similar to neighboring Brazil, this idea involved expansionism (including the appropriation of native lands) and a sense of grandeza (greatness). In contrast to most other Latin American countries, however, Argentina’s vision of grandeza was distinctly racialized as Euro-American. On ideas of Argentine greatness, see Nicholas Shumway, Inventing Argentina: History of an Idea (Berkeley, Calif., 1991), 296.

11 Fingerprinting can be described as a type of what James C. Scott calls “state-initiated social engineering” within the “imperialism of high-modernist, planned social order.” Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, Conn., 1998).

12 On European fascination with and exploration of the Americas in an earlier period, see Anthony Pagden, European Encounters with the New World: From Renaissance to Romanticisim (New Haven, Conn., 1993); Victor Von Hagen, South America Called Them: Explorations of the Great Naturalists: La Condamine, Humboldt, Darwin, Spruce (New York, 1945), as well as the vast literature on Alexander von Humboldt’s Latin American journeys.

13 Argentine medicine was most strongly influenced by French models; in 1903, psychologist Horacio Piñero even pronounced, “From the intellectual point of view, we are French.” Quoted in Hugo Vezzetti, El nacimiento de la psicología en la Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1998), 43. On Argentine medicine, see Ricardo González Leandri, Curar, persuadir, gobernar: La construcción histórica de la profesión médica en Buenos Aires, 1852–1886 (Madrid, 1999); Mirta Zaida Lobato, ed., Política, médicos y enfermedades: Lecturas de historia de la salud en Argentina (Mar del Plata, 1996). On tropical medicine within a larger imperialistic system, see Nancy Leys Stepan, Picturing Tropical Medicine (Ithaca, N.Y., 2001); Arnold Davis, Warm Climates and Western Medicine: The Emergence of Tropical Medicine, 1500–1900 (Amsterdam, 1988); Roy M. Macleod and Milton James Lewis, Disease, Medicine, and Empire: Perspectives on Western Medicine and the Experience of European Expansion (New York, 1996).

14 A rich literature exists on the scientific and medical response to European, especially French, social anxieties at the fin de siècle. See Daniel Pick, Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c. 1848–c. 1918 (New York, 1989); Robert A. Nye, Crime, Madness, and Politics in Modern France: The Medical Concept of National Decline (Princeton, N.J., 1984); Susanna Barrows, Distorting Mirrors: Visions of the Crowd in Late Nineteenth-Century France (New Haven, Conn., 1981); Jan Goldstein, Console and Classify: The French Psychiatric Profession in the Nineteenth Century (New York, 1987); Ann-Louise Shapiro, Breaking the Codes: Female Criminality in Fin-de-Siècle Paris (Stanford, Calif., 1996).

15 For historical studies of criminology, see Ruth Harris, Murders and Madness: Medicine, Law and Society in the Fin de Siècle (Oxford, 1989); Marie-Christine Leps, Apprehending the Criminal: The Production of Deviance in Nineteenth-Century Discourse (Durham, N.C., 1992); Nye, Crime, Madness, and Politics in Modern France; Pick, Faces of Degeneration; Nicole Rafter, Creating Born Criminals (Chicago, 1997); Shapiro, Breaking the Codes; Richard Wetzell, Inventing the Criminal: A History of German Criminology, 1880–1945 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2000). On the history of criminology and penology in Latin America, see Lyman L. Johnson, ed., The Problem of Order in Changing Societies: Essays on Crime and Policing in Argentina and Uruguay, 1750–1940 (Albuquerque, N.M., 1990); Pablo Piccato, City of Suspects: Crime in Mexico City, 1900–1930 (Durham, 2001); Ricardo Salvatore and Carlos Aguirre, eds., The Birth of the Penitentiary in Latin America (Austin, Tex., 1996); Salvatore, Crime and Punishment in Latin America.

16 Lombroso’s work was expanded and amended by his two students, Enrico Ferri and Raffaele Garofalo, and the work of the three men was collectively known as the “Italian school” of criminology. A description of the context from which the Italian positivist school emerged can be found in John A. Davis, Conflict and Control: Law and Order in Nineteenth-Century Italy (Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1988), 2. For discussions of Lombroso, see Mary Gibson, Born to Crime: Cesare Lombroso and the Origins of Biological Criminology (Westport, Conn., 2002); Pick, Faces of Degeneration; J. Davis, Conflict and Control, esp. 326–38; Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (New York, 1981), 122–42.

17 Lombroso’s “homo delinquens” was a single sex species: male. Lombroso elaborated his views on women in his 1893 book, The Female Offender (La donna delincuente; note the contrast with “the criminal man”), written with his son-in-law Guglielmo Ferrero. On Lombroso and gender, see Gibson, Born to Crime, chap. 2; Beverly Brown, “Reassessing the Critique of Biologism,” in Loraine Gelsthrope and Allison Morris, eds., Feminist Perspectives in Criminology (Philadelphia, 1990), 41–56; Nancy A. Harrowitz, Antisemitism, Misogyny, and the Logic of Cultural Difference: Cesare Lombroso and Matilde Serao (Lincoln, Neb., 1994), 30–36.

18 Their collective efforts, usually labeled criminology for the theorists and criminalistics for the hunters of actual criminals, were closely related in Argentina, as in North Atlantic countries. Experts in both fields frequently collaborated on research projects and their practical applications. Criminologists appeared as expert witnesses in trials, took an active role in defining the markers of criminal identity, and drafted new laws and policies to punish criminals and prevent future offenses. On the distinction between the two, see Allan Sekula, “The Body and the Archive,” October 39 (Winter 1986): 18–19; on identification science in comparative perspective, see Simon Cole, Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification (Cambridge, Mass., 2001); Jane Caplan and John Torpey, eds., Documenting Individual Identity: The Development of State Practices in the Modern World (Princeton, N.J., 2001).

19 See Paul Rabinow, “Galton’s Regret: Of Types and Individuals,” in Paul R. Billings, ed., DNA on Trial: Genetic Identification and Criminal Justice (Plainview, N.Y., 1992), 5–18.

20 Raymond Fosdick, “The Passing of the Bertillon System of Identification,” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law, no. 6 (1915): 364. Fosdick describes at numerous points the Vucetich system on an equal footing with the Henry system in terms of its application throughout Europe; his larger point is that either one was preferable to Bertillonage, since fingerprints taken under any system could be compared with each other, while the French anthropometric system was incompatible with all. More broadly, art historian Allan Sekula calls our attention to the need to efficiently classify, file, and retrieve anthropometric records, a challenge faced by European and American scientists alike. Sekula, “Body and the Archive,” 1–86.

21 For general discussions of Argentine science, see José Babini, Historia de la ciencia en Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1986); Hugo Biagini, El movimiento positivista argentina (Buenos Aires, 1985); Marcelo Montserrat, ed., La ciencia en la Argentina entre siglos (Buenos Aires, 2000); Oscar Teran, Vida intelectual en el Buenos Aires fin-de-siglo (1880–1910): Derivas de la “cultura científica” (Buenos Aires, 2000).

22 Vucetich believed he was contributing to criminalistic “science” with what some might argue was a bureaucratic innovation. Both Argentine scientists and their colleagues abroad perceived anthropometry and other identification techniques as “scientific.” A plea for increased attention to the history of criminalistics in historical studies of criminology and science more broadly is Claire Valier, “True Crime Stories: Scientific Methods of Criminal Investigation, Criminology and Historiography,” British Journal of Criminology 38, no. 1 (Winter 1998): 88–101.

23 Argentines attended international public health, criminology, and criminal law congresses, a great source of new scientific ideas. The Argentine delegation to the Stockholm congress in 1878, for example, reported, “The decisions made at this Congress will be of great importance to us since they will not fail to exercise influence on our criminal legislation … The approved resolutions will be like the treatment prescribed by a medical doctor to combat an illness. If we are sicker than other countries, we should try to demonstrate it and indicate the symptoms of our social ills so that we may find a remedy.” Quoted in Rosa Del Olmo, América Latina y su criminología (Mexico City, 1987), 63. See also “Republique Argentine,” Le Congres Penitentiaire International de Stockholm, memoires et rapports, Bureau de la Commission Penitentiaire International (Stockholm, 1879). After 1889, they sponsored scientific meetings of their own, usually with a regional focus, such as the Latin American Scientific Congress.

24 After 1880, Argentina’s gross national product increased by about 6 percent per year, comparable to most industrial countries. Per capita income in this period was at times higher than in Spain, Italy, Sweden, and Switzerland, and equal to that of Germany and Holland. On nineteenth-century economic growth, see David Rock, Argentina, 1516–1982 (Berkeley, Calif., 1987), 118–61; Waisman, Reversal of Development in Argentina, 36–127; for the statistics cited, see Rock, Argentina, 172.

25 Eduardo Wilde trans. and quoted in José Luis Romero, A History of Argentine Political Thought (Stanford, Calif., 1963), 185.

26 Immigration statistics derived from Rock, Argentina, 141; José Moya, Cousins and Strangers: Spanish Immigrants in Buenos Aires, 1850–1930 (Berkeley, Calif., 1998), 149; Carl Solberg, Immigration and Nationalism: Argentina and Chile, 1890–1914 (Austin, Tex., 1970), 33–38; Alberto Kleiner, ed., Publicidad oficial sobre Argentina como país de inmigración, 1903 (Buenos Aires, 1983), 30.

27 Charles Darwin, Origen de las especies por medio de la selección natural: ó, Conservación de las razas favorecidas en la lucha por la existencia, 2d edn., Enríque Godínez, trans. (Madrid, 1877); Marcelo Monserrat, “The Evolutionist Mentality in Argentina: An Ideology of Progress,” in Thomas Glick, et al., eds., The Reception of Darwinism in the Iberian World: Spain, Spanish America, and Brazil (Dordrecht, 2001). On positivism in Argentina, see Biagini, El movimiento positivista argentino; José Luis Romero, A History of Argentine Political Thought (Stanford, Calif., 1963); Ricaurte Soler, El positivismo argentino (Buenos Aires, 1968); Oscar Terán, Positivismo y nación en la Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1987). On positivism in Latin America, see David Hale, “Political and Social Ideas in Latin America,” in Leslie Bethell, ed., The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 4 (New York, 1986), 382–414; Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr., ed., Positivism in Latin America, 1850–1900: Are Order and Progress Reconcilable? (Lexington, Mass., 1971).

28 Henry T. F. Rhodes, Alphonse Bertillon: Father of Scientific Detection (New York, 1968), 71–101. In 1896, Bertillon added a section to his record card for the impression of four fingers of the criminal. After 1902, he also recommended the use of fingerprint technology in crime-scene investigation.

29 Vucetich’s decision to back fingerprinting in the La Plata Office of Identification infuriated Bertillon and resulted in a much-publicized dispute between the two scientists. According to one account, the competition surfaced in 1913, when Vucetich dropped in on Bertillon in Paris. “As the creator of the first complete system of classification of fingerprints, Vucetich evidently thought he was entitled to call upon Bertillon without giving notice of his intended visit … Vucetich arrived one morning, evidently expecting to be received immediately and with open arms … Suddenly the door leading to Bertillon’s office was flung wide open. The Chief of Service stood on the threshold. He treated his visitor to a hostile scrutiny which slowly passed from head to feet. ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘you have tried to do me a great deal of harm.’ He slammed the door in the face of Vucetich. It was the first and last occasion upon which they met.” Rhodes, Alphonse Bertillon, 146–47. While Vucetich certainly claimed that he meant no harm, Bertillon was not far off the mark in seeing fingerprint classification as a threat to his anthropometric system. By 1904, Vucetich would proclaim that he had “proved the inefficacy of anthropometry as a means of identification.” Juan Vucetich, Dactiloscopía comparada: El nuevo sistema argentino (La Plata, 1904), 15.

30 Cole, Suspect Identities, 133. The article on Galton’s work was by French scientist Henry Crosnier de Varigny, “Antropologie—Les empreintes digitales, d’apres M. F. Galton,” Revue scientifique 47, no. 18 (May 2, 1891): 557–62. Galton was best known for his interest in heredity and eugenics (indeed, he coined the latter word). Criminalistics was a side preoccupation, yet, according to Sekula, “his interest in heredity and racial ‘betterment’ led him to join the search for biologically determined ‘criminal type.'” Sekula, “Body and the Archive,” 18–19. See also George Wilton, Fingerprints: History, Law, and Romance (London, 1938), 78; Carey Chapman, “Dr. Juan Vucetich: His Contribution to the Science of Fingerprints,” Journal of Forensic Identification 42, no. 4 (1992): 286–94, 288.

31 The provincial police also began fingerprinting their own candidates to the force, the first experiment in the civil use of fingerprints in Argentina. This exercise was a seeming success: of 373 candidates in the first year of the procedure, eleven with previous police records were weeded out. By 1903, Vucetich cited this evidence to show that his system “functions regularly, and secures the recognition of repeat offenders to justice, as it assures the elimination of individuals with bad pasts who want to join the police.” See Vucetich, “Historia sintética de la identificacíon,” Revista de identificación y ciencias penales 7 (1931): 29; Juan Vucetich to Luis M. Doyenhard, May 1, 1903, miscellaneous correspondence folder, Archivo Vucetich, Museo de la Policía de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, La Plata (hereafter, AV).

32 Cited in Vucetich, “Historia sintética,” 30. See Registro Oficial (La Plata, 1893), 184. Even after the successful implementation of dactyloscopy, Argentine police and prison officials continued to record anthropometric data. The two systems existed simultaneously, were used jointly, and influenced each other. For examples, see the prison registers and identification cards (fichas de filiación) from Buenos Aires provincial prisons; Entradas y salidas de presos criminales (carcel de Bahía Blanca, Dolores, Mercedes, Sierra Chica, Departamento del Centro, del Sud), 1882–1915, Archivo Penitenciario de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, La Plata.

33 See Cole, Suspect Identities, 128.

34 Vucetich gave the patterns on the thumb the following abbreviated designations: A=Arch (arco); I=Inner Loop (presilla interna); E=Outer Loop (presilla externa); V=Whorl (verticilio). Similarly, numbers were used to identity the patterns on the remaining fingers: 1=Arch; 2=Inner Loop; 3=Outer Loop; 4=Whorl. Elaborated from Vucetich, Dactiloscopía comparada, 80–83. For a detailed explanation of Vucetich’s fingerprint identification method, see also Luis Reyna Almandos, Dactiloscopía argentina: Su historia é influencia en la legislación (La Plata, 1909), 34–37; Cole, Suspect Identities, 128–29. See also (as cited in Cole) Frank M. Boolsen, “Fifty-One Fingerprint Systems: An Outline of the Various Methods in Different Countries for Classifying and Filing Fingerprints under the Ten-Finger and Single-Print Systems,” Burtis C. Bridges, ed., unpublished typescript (Berkeley, Calif., 1935); Burtis C. Bridges, Practical Fingerprinting (1942; New York, 1963); Spencer L. Rogers, The Personal Identification of Living Individuals (Springfield, Ill., 1986), 73–75.

35 Juan Vucetich, “Instrucciones generales para el sistema de filiación ‘Provincia de Buenos Aires,'” (La Plata, 1896). An earlier publication, the pamphlet “Instrucciones generales para la identificación antropométrica,” was published in 1893. Large portions of it were printed in the Platense newspaper El día. See El día, December 22, 1893.

36 Juan Vucetich to Francis Galton, December 11, 1896, Centro de Estudios Históricos Policiales, “Comisario Inspector Luis Romay,” Policía de la Capital, Buenos Aires (hereafter, CEHP).

37 Galton to Vucetich, January 11, 1897, miscellaneous folder, CEHP.

38 Vucetich, Dactiloscopía comparada, 14.

39 Lombroso wrote to Vucetich in 1896, requesting samples of fingerprints along with “descriptions of every one of the criminals to whom they belong.” He praised Argentina’s progress in this field, stating that “at least twenty-five years will pass before we in Italy will arrive to where you are now … I have discussed [your] discovery more widely in the new edition of Criminal Man. If you consult this book you will see how much I am indebted to your work.” Quoted in Vucetich, “Historia sintética,” 36, 44.

40 Vucetich, Dactiloscopía comparada, 41.

41 Luis M. Doyenhard, La policía en Sud-América (La Plata, 1905), part 1, “El momento.” For a discussion of the post-independence reorganization and growth of the Buenos Aires police, see Oswaldo Barreneche, “Crime and the Administration of Criminal Justice in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1785–1853” (PhD dissertation, University of Arizona, 1997).

42 A. Cutrera, review of Alfredo Niceforo, “La policía científica,” Archivos de psiquiatría y criminología 6 (1907): 499. For examples of other such assessments in contemporary Argentine police histories, see Doyenhard, La policía en Sud-América; Luis J. Albert, Historia de la policía, 2d edn. (Buenos Aires, 1913), 102–03, 154–55, 161–63.

43 While Vucetich did not emphasize the influence of race in determining the patterns of individual fingerprints, he did call for investigation into the correlation between fingerprint patterns and criminal types. He cited studies that seemed to link fingerpad patterns in primates and certain types of human “degenerates.” “The frequency of determined form,” he wrote in 1904, “serves as a point of departure for future investigations of anthropologists and forensic specialists.” Vucetich, Dactiloscopía comparada, 55.

44 Guillermo J. Nunes, Memoria del Departamento de Policía correspondiente al año 1891 (La Plata, 1892), 5.

45 Memoria del departamento de Policía de la Capital, 1883–1884 (Buenos Aires, 1884), 81. See also Alberto Méndez Casariego, La criminalidad de la ciudad de Buenos Aires en 1887: Contravenciones, suicidios y accidentes (Buenos Aires, 1888); and the Boletín mensual de estadística (1895–99).

46 A 1909 police report, addressed to the minister of the interior, praised the 1902 Residence Law for reducing the need to deport “those persons whose background and behavior constitute a very grave danger to the public order.” Calling the measure a “law of public health,” the police suggested its expansion to the control of vagrants and other quasi-criminal social disturbances, “in order to provide better and more healthful effects.” Memoria del departamento de la Policía de la Capital, 1906–1909 (Buenos Aires, 1909), 15–16.

47 Despite the emphasis on identifying urban immigrants as prone to crime, a recent analysis of late nineteenth-century police statistics showed that class status was far more significant than nationality in determining criminality. In fact, crime rates for all major ethnic groups remained roughly constant with the representation in the population; Spanish immigrants had a slightly higher rate than native-born Argentines, but Italian-born immigrants had a lower rate. According to this analysis, the few voices questioning the blame on immigrants were overwhelmed by scientific and popular stereotypes of immigrants. For example, Miguel A. Lancellotti recalculated crime rates by age in 1912 to show the bias against foreigners, but criminologists discounted his critique as late as the 1960s. The statistics also revealed that most types of crime were in fact decreasing at this time; the increases that captured the attention of contemporaries were crimes against property, such as assault, theft, and vandalism, which surged during each period of economic crisis. See Julia Kirk Blackwelder and Lyman L. Johnson, “Changing Criminal Patterns in Buenos Aires, 1890 to 1914,” Journal of Latin American Studies 14, no. 2 (1982): 359–80, 361, 367.

48 That is not to say that individuals always subjected themselves willingly to anthropometric and dactyloscopic examination. Popular resistance as well as judicial opposition (on constitutional grounds) is examined in Kristin Ruggiero, “Fingerprinting and the Argentine Plan for Universal Identification in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” in Caplan and Torpey, Documenting Individual Identity, 185–88.

49 Nunes, Memoria, 5; see also “Medicina legal,” Anales del Departamento Nacional de Higiene 1, no. 2 (February 1891): 97.

50 Bibiano S. Torres, “Observaciones sobre las Oficinas de Antropometría é Icnofalangometría” (Buenos Aires, 1894), 5.

51 Ernesto Weigel Muñoz, “Prólogo,” to Vucetich, “Instrucciones generales para el sistema de filiación,” 3.

52 José Rossi to Francisco Beazley, September 9, 1901, miscellaneous correspondence folder, AV.

53 José Rossi to Juan Vucetich, 1901–1907, correspondence file R-Z, AV. See Orden del día, November 9, 1903, 1066.

54 Belisario Otamendi to Juan Vucetich, May 11, 1901, miscellaneous correspondence folder, AV. Vucetich reported in 1903 his excellent relations with the capital police’s commissioner of investigation; see Vucetich to Luis M. Doyenhard, May 1, 1903, miscellaneous correspondence folder, AV.

55 For example, in 1910, the records of Simon Radowisky, an anarchist who had assassinated the Buenos Aires city police chief one year earlier, flew between the capital police and local stations. After Radowisky’s conviction and life sentence, the capital police forwarded his file to the provincial police, including his photographs, fingerprints, and anthropometric description. José Rossi to Ricardo Rojas, January 19, 1910, miscellaneous correspondence folder, AV. See also telegrams requesting Radowisky’s mug shots and fingerprints in his court trial documents, located in Tribunales, Legajo R5, 1872–1909, Archivo General de la Nación, Buenos Aires.

56 José Rossi to Juan Vucetich, telegram, December 31, 1907, miscellaneous correspondence folder, AV.

57�Memoria del departamento de la Policía de la Capital, 1906–1909, 298. Furthermore, in 1911, a legislative committee called Vucetich to share his method at a special meeting with the minister of the interior and the minister of war. José Tonrouge to Juan Vucetich, April 29, 1911, correspondence file A-M, AV.

58�Memoria de la División Técnica, año 1916 (Buenos Aires, 1917), 18. City population figure from the 1914 census; see Tercer censo nacional (Buenos Aires, 1916), vol. 1: 3. As in most statistical reports, population figures were broken down by nationality; the city’s population in 1914 was apparently almost evenly split between foreigners and Argentines. La Plata’s population of 137,413 was about 28 percent foreign born.

59 Reyna Almandos, Dactiloscopía argentina, 109.

60 On the proposed laws for universal fingerprinting in Argentina, see Juan Vucetich, Comentario al proyecto de ley creando el registro general de identificación (La Plata, 1916). For a discussion of the legal proposals and debates leading up to its creation, see Julia Emilia Rodriguez, “Encoding the Criminal: Criminology and the Science of ‘Social Defense’ in Modernizing Argentina (1880–1921)” (PhD dissertation, Columbia University, 2000), chap. 4; Ruggiero, “Fingerprinting and the Argentine Plan for Universal Identification,” 192–96.

61 Reyna Almandos, Dactiloscopía argentina, 109, 125, 127.

62 The accelerating state interest and ability in tracking foreigners in Argentina corresponded with movements in the North Atlantic world of the late nineteenth century, such as the increase in the distribution and use of documents of personal identification. See John Torpey, The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship, and the State (New York, 2000), esp. chap. 4.

63 Nicéforo Castellano, “Oficina Nacional de Identidad: Proyecto presentado al Ministerio del Interior” (Buenos Aires, 1908), 21–22. See also the inscribed and annotated copy in Vucetich’s files, miscellaneous correspondence folder, AV.

64 Dirección General de Inmigración, “Resolución No. 292,” May 21, 1912, miscellaneous folder, AV.

65 Provincial police chief Nunes had linked fingerprinting with good citizenship as early as 1891, saying “each good citizen should lend cooperation, under the auspices not only of his material interests, but also those of domestic honor.” G. J. Nunes to the President of the Supreme Court of the Province of Buenos Aires, November 24, 1891, p. 4, miscellaneous correspondence folder, AV.

66 Dirección General de Inmigración (Buenos Aires), “Libreta del inmigrado,” 1911, 3.

67 The inconsistency of the law and legal practices and the persistence of local power and autonomy in Latin America are widely recognized. “Obedezco pero no cumplo” (I obey but do not comply), the phrase that characterized colonial administrators’ creative interpretation of Spanish law, has its legacy in the modern administration of justice as well. See Jeremy Adelman, ed., Colonial Legacies: The Problem of Persistence in Latin American History (New York, 1999); Juan Mendez, et al., eds., The (Un)Rule of Law and the Underprivileged in Latin America (Notre Dame, Ind., 1999).

68 See Malcolm Anderson, Policing the World (Oxford, 1989); Fenton Bresler, Interpol (London, 1992).

69 For a description of this collaboration, see “La dactiloscopía: Sus resultados en el Tercer Congreso Científico Latino-Americano de Rio-Janeiro y en el Convenio Policía Sud-Americano de Buenos Aires,” Archivos de psiquiatría 5 (1906): 354. Other regional conferences at which Vucetich presented his work include the 1904 International Hygiene Conference, held in Buenos Aires, the International Police Conference, also held in Buenos Aires in 1905, and the 1908 Chilean Scientific Conference.

70 There is strong evidence that the key ideas in the Henry system were developed by his two Indian assistants, Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose. On Henry and the significance of the colonial Indian setting, see Cole, Suspect Identities, 81–83; and Chandak Sengoopta, Imprint of the Raj: How Fingerprinting Was Born in Colonial India (London, 2003), 138–45.

71 M. Dastre, “Des empreintes digitales comme procédé d’identification,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des Sciences (1907), 45. Similarly, the Danish scientist A. Daae recommended the Vucetich system in “Die daktyloskopische Registratur,” Archiv für Kriminal Antropologie und Kriminalistik 24 (1906): 26–44. See also F. Spirlet, “Méthode de classification des empreintes digitales,” Archives internationales de médecine légale 1 (1910): 7–34; and Fosdick’s remarks in “The Passing of the Bertillon System of Identification.”

72 Juan Vucetich, “The Fingerprint System,” Address to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 1913, trans. and rpt. in Donald C. Dilworth, ed., Identification Wanted: Development of the American Criminal Identification System, 1893–1943 (Gaithersburg, Md., 1977), 94.

73 Dilworth, Identification Wanted, 93.

74 See Daae, “Die daktyloscopische Registratur,” for instance. Whether they supported the Argentine or the British classifications, most experts agreed that some kind of conversion was necessary to create a universal standard allowing for the sharing of data across borders and other types of international collaboration in policing. The world would ultimately have to wait until the 1980s and the widespread use of computer-based imaging of fingerprints for that, however. For a discussion of computer technology and the digitization of fingerprints, see Cole, Suspect Identities, 134, 225, 250–53.

75 The offer was to teach in the fingerprint department at the salary of $150 per month. W. K. Evans to Vucetich, July 3, 1917, correspondence folder “Norte América A-Z,” AV.

76 Of police departments in thirty-one countries that Bridges describes in detail in his survey of fingerprint applications, twenty-one of them were influenced by Vucetich. Of the twenty-one, sixteen credited Vucetich as the primary influence. Both systems were similar in that they subdivided among ridge types; Vucetich used four main subtypes, while Henry used three. Bridges, Practical Fingerprinting, 161–206, quote 161.

77 Cole and Sengoopta, too, argue that fingerprinting technology flourished precisely in colonial and high-immigrant settings, because of the perceived need to distinguish among a large, seemingly indistinguishable population. See Cole, Suspect Identities, chaps. 3 and 5; Sengoopta, Imprint of the Raj, esp. the introduction and chap. 5. More broadly, both Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra and Ann Laura Stoler have discussed colonies (Spanish-American, Dutch, British, and French) as the settings for the development of theories of racial difference that were then imported back to Europe. See Cañizares-Esguerra, “New World, New Stars,” 35–36; and Ann Laura Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s “History of Sexuality” and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham, N.C., 1995).