Dr Katherine Watson

Senior Lecturer in the History of Medicine since 1500

Katherine D. (Cassie) Watson was educated at the Universities of Western Ontario and Leeds before completing her DPhil in modern history at the University of Oxford. Her work has been supported by grants and fellowships from the Wellcome Trust, British Academy, and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. She has been teaching at Oxford Brookes since 2004.

Dr Watson is a historian of forensic medicine and crime in Britain, focusing on the period between 1700 and the First World War. Her research is interdisciplinary, drawing on law, medicine and social history of crime. She is currently writing a monograph on medico-legal practice in England and Wales 1700-1914, drawing on case reports of interpersonal violence. Her research interests are reflected in much of her teaching.



  • U67780 Forensic Medicine in Western Society (3rd year) [Advanced Study in the History of Crime]
  • U67775 Debating Issues in Health, Past and Present (3rd year) [Advanced Study in the History of Medicine]
  • U67721 Crime and Punishment through the Ages (2nd year)
  • U67725 Jack the Ripper and the Victorian Underworld (2nd year)
  • U67502 Age of Revolution and Popular Protest (1st year)
To understand our criminal justice system, it is crucial to understand the long-running historical debate on the nature, incidence and causes of crime, as well as the way in which medicine has played an active part in shaping legal, political and social change. Dr Watson’s specialist teaching focuses on the origins of these foundations of modern legal practice, while her broader teaching considers the wider socio-political contexts within which these practices developed.


  • P67569 Behaving Badly: Crime, Deviance and Civilization

Dr Watson has supervised MA dissertations on various aspects of the history of crime and forensic medicine. Her PhD supervisions include a completed thesis on establishing the identity of the unknown dead in England and Wales 1800-1934 (Fraser Joyce, 2013), and ongoing projects on medical themes in the early (18th-century) novel (Mary Gifford) and homicide in nineteenth-century Lancashire (Louise Carpenter). She welcomes applications from students interested in the history of forensic medicine and science, as well as the history of crime in Britain and the West since the seventeenth century.


History of crime in Britain; Western forensic medicine and science in the post-medieval period.

Katherine Watson's doctoral thesis investigated the role of scientific expertise in the late Victorian period. The theme of ‘expertise’ recurs in her current work, which focuses on topics where medicine, crime and the law intersect. Her main areas of research are:

  • The history of crime in Britain since the early 18th century (especially a) criminal poisoning and related offences, b) homicide, and c) vitriol throwing), with a particular emphasis on medico-legal issues concerning these offences, the gender and social background of victims and perpetrators, the responses of the legal system, investigative practices, and regional variations (in particular, comparing England and Wales) in these trends.
  • The history of medicine in post-1700 Britain, particularly the development of forensic medicine and the careers of its practitioners.
  • The history of chemistry post-1750, especially in relation to toxicology and forensic techniques.

She is currently working on a project funded by the Wellcome Trust: 'Medicine and Justice: medico-legal practice in England and Wales 1700-1914', and on the history of acid throwing, an unusual form of assault. This strand of her research will be expanded and developed in future work, which will include further detailed study of assault as a form of interpersonal violence.

Her research interests have been reflected in appearances in television documentaries since 2005, most recently in A Town and Country Murder (S3 Ep4, 2015). 

You can listen to a podcast - Moments In Medicine #9: Before CSI: The Origins of Forensic Medicine and Science. And she blogs with two colleagues in North America - you can read our posts on the history of law, crime and justice at Legal History Miscellany.



Public lecture

  • 'Violent Crime in Victorian and Edwardian Camden', Camden History Society, 19 September 2013
  • 'Before CSI: Crime, Medicine and Science in History', Royal Society of Medicine, 3 February 2016

Selected conference papers

  • ‘Marriage, motherhood and multiple infanticide in rural Wiltshire: Rebecca Smith (1806-1849)’, Women’s History Network regional meeting, University College Worcester (May 2004).
  • ‘The British serial poisoner since 1800’, Assaulting the Past: Placing Violence in Historical Context conference, St Anne’s College, Oxford (July 2005).
  • ‘Crimes of the blackest dye? Judicial responses to child murder in England and Wales, 1700-1900’, European Social Science History Conference, Amsterdam (March 2006).
  • 'Medicine and justice: medico-legal practice in 18th and 19th century England and Wales',British Society of Criminology Conference (September 2007).
  • ‘Losing face: vitriol throwing, shame and stigma in Britain, 1820-1900', European Social Science History Conference, Lisbon (February 2008).
  • 'Women, violence and the criminal law in Wales, 1730-1900', Women and Crime in Britain and North America Conference, Lyon (September 2008).
  • 'Dead drunk or just disorderly? Homicide and alcohol in Wales, 1730-1914', Crime, Violence and the Modern State II: Blame, Culpability and Shame, St Petersburg (May 2009).
  • '"In my opinion it was a child at full time": Infanticide in English and Welsh medico-legal practice, 1730-1914', Body and Mind in the History of Medicine and Health, European Association for the History of Medicine and Health, Utrecht (September 2011).
  • '"Put to the brink of eternity": Wounding in British law and society, from mayhem to offences against the person', Crime, Violence and the Modern State III: Law, Order and Individual Rights - Theory, Intent and Practice, Lyon (September 2011).
  • 'Prosecuting homicide on the coroner's inquisition during the long eighteenth century', 21st British Legal History Conference, Glasgow (July 2013)
  • 'The impact of medical evidence on criminal process in England and Wales, 1730-1914', 22nd British Legal History Conference, Reading (July 2015)
  • 'Investigating homicide in England: the medical contribution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries', European Social Science History Conference, Valencia (April 2016)
  • 'Place, space and Anglo-Welsh forensic practice (1800-1914)', Society for the Social History of Medicine Conference, Canterbury (July 2016)

Conferences organised

  • Organiser of an international conference on the history of violence: ‘“Assaulting the Past”: Placing Violence in Historical Context’ at St Anne’s College, Oxford, 7-9 July 2005. 
  • Organiser of a half-day meeting on ‘The History of Forensic Chemistry’, The Royal Institution, London, 26 October 2005.
  • Organiser of a session on ‘Child Murder in North-Atlantic Europe, 1700-1900’ for the European Social Science History Conference, Amsterdam, 22-25 March 2006.
  • Organiser of a session on 'Women and Violence in the British Isles' for an international conference on Women and Crime in Britain and North America since 1500, Lyon, 12-13 September 2008.
  • Organiser of a workshop on 'Legal Medicine and Expertise in History', Oxford Brookes University, 4 December 2009. 
  • Co-organiser (with Dr Erica Charters, University of Oxford) of the 2014 Society for the Social History of Medicine Conference, held in Oxford 10-12 July 2014.


Editorial Board Member, Law, Crime and History (e-journal) [http://www.pbs.plymouth.ac.uk/solon/journal.htm]

Membership of professional bodies

  • British Society of Criminology
  • Economic History Society
  • Social History Society
  • Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry
  • Society for the Social History of Medicine
  • SOLON: Promoting Interdisciplinary Studies in Crime and Bad Behaviour
  • SSHA Criminal Justice / Legal History Network


  • Books
  • Journal articles
  • Book chapters
  • Other


  • K. Watson, Poisoned Lives: English Poisoners and their Victims (Hambledon and London, 2004)
  • K. D. Watson (ed.), Assaulting the Past: Violence and Civilization in Historical Context (Cambridge Scholars Publishing,2007)
  • K. D. Watson, Crime Archive: Dr Crippen (The National Archives,2007)
  • K. D. Watson, Forensic Medicine in Western Society: A History (Routledge, 2011)


  • K.D. Watson, Sources for the History of Science in Oxford (Oxford: Modern History Faculty, 1994)

Journal articles

  • K.D. Watson, ‘The chemist as expert: the consulting career of Sir William Ramsay’, Ambix, 42 (1995), 143-59.
  • R.J. Flanagan and K.D. Watson, ‘Chloroform – murder or suicide? Sir Thomas Stevenson and his role in the trial of Adelaide Bartlett’, History of Anaesthesia Society Proceedings, 32 (2003), 40-49.
  • A-M. Kilday and K. Watson, ‘Nursery crimes: Child murder in Georgian England’, History Today, 55, 1 (2005) 40-46.
  • K.D. Watson, ‘Medical and chemical expertise in English trials for criminal poisoning, 1750-1914’, Medical History, 50 (2006), 373-90.
  • M.C. Usselman, D.G. Leaist and K.D. Watson, 'Dalton's disputed nitric oxide experiments and the origins of his atomic theory', ChemPhysChem, 9 (2008), 106-10.
  • K.D. Watson, 'Religion, community and the infanticidal mother: evidence from 1840s rural Wiltshire', Family and Community History, 11 (2008), 116-33. This article appears in a special issue of the journal, co-edited by A-M. Kilday and K.D. Watson, on the theme of 'Infanticide, Religion and Community in the British Isles, 1720-1920' - see the Introduction pp.84-99.
  • R.J. Flanagan and K.D. Watson, ‘A petition to Mr Peel: Gideon Mantell and the trial of Hannah Russell’, Medicine, Science and the Law, 49 (2009), 153-69.
  • K.D. Watson, 'Women, violent crime and criminal justice in Georgian Wales', Continuity and Change, 28 (2013), 245-272.

Book chapters

  • K.D. Watson, ‘Highlights in the history of toxicology’, in P. Wexler (ed.), Information Resources in Toxicology, 3rd ed. (Academic Press, 2000), 1-13. A revised version for the 4th edition appeared in 2009.
  • K.D. Watson, ‘“Temporary hotel accommodation”? The early history of the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory, 1894-1923’, in F.A.J.L. James (ed.), ‘The Common Purposes of Life’: Science and Society at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (Ashgate, 2002), 191-223.
  • K.D. Watson, ‘Criminal poisoning in England and the origins of the Marsh test for arsenic’, in J. R. Bertomeu-Sanchez and A. Nieto-Galan(eds), Chemistry, Medicine and Crime: Mateu J. B. Orfila and His Times (Science History Publications,2006), pp. 183-206.
  • K.D. Watson, 'Introduction' and 'Serial homicide and civilization' in Assaulting the Past: Violence and Civilization in Historical Context (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), pp. 1-17, 286-303.
  • K.D. Watson,‘Response - 'Moral Pestilence': same-sex criminal cases in mid-Victorian England', in George S. Rousseau (ed.), Children and Sexuality: the Greeks to the Great War (Palgrave Macmillan,2007), pp. 200-05.
  • K.D. Watson, ‘Is a burn a wound? Vitriol-throwing in medico-legal context, 1800-1900', in I. Goold and C. Kelly (eds), Lawyer's Medicine: The Legislature, the Courts and Medical Practice, 1760-2000 (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2009), pp. 61-78.
  • K.D. Watson, 'Concluding remarks', in Wendy J. Turner and Sara M. Butler (eds), Medicine and the Law in the Middle Ages (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), pp. 317-327.
  • K.D. Watson, 'Mental disorder, crime and the development of healthcare systems', in Paul Weindling (ed.), Healthcare in Private and Public from the Early Modern Period to 2000 (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015), pp. 58-81
  • K.D. Watson, 'Love, vengeance and vitriol: an Edwardian true-crime drama', in David Nash and Anne-Marie Kilday (eds), Law, Crime and Deviance since 1700: Micro-Studies in the History of Crime (Bloomsbury Academic, forthcoming 2016)
  • Catriona Havard and K.D. Watson, 'Historical overview', in Andreas Vossler, Catriona Havard, Graham Pike, Meg John Barker and Bianca Rabbe (eds), Mad or Bad? A Critical Approach to Counselling and Forensic Psychology (Sage Publishing, forthcoming 2017)


Selected encyclopaedia entries:

  • ‘Murder’ and ‘Poisons’, in C. Blakemore and S. Jennett (eds), The Oxford Companion to the Body (Oxford University Press, 2001).
  • Thirty biographical articles in the Encyclopedia of Life Sciences (Nature Publishing Group, 2002).
  • ‘Linus Carl Pauling’, in D.N. Cooper (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Human Genome (Nature Publishing Group, 2003).
  • Thirty-eight articles in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004).
  • ‘Sir William Ramsay’, in B. Lightman (ed.), Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century British Scientists (Thoemmes Press, 2004).
  • ‘The history of toxicology’, in P. Wexler (ed.), Encyclopedia of Toxicology, 2nd edn (Elsevier,2005), pp 364-70.
  • ‘History of toxicology’, in P. Wexler (ed.), Information Resources in Toxicology, 4th ed. (Academic Press, 2009), pp. 11-29 (with P. Wexler).