Episode 11: Cesare Lombroso & The Born Criminal

Ep11 Words To That Effect (Cesare Lombroso)


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Turin in the 19th Century

Turin (Words To That Effect Ep 11 - Cesare Lombroso)The northern Italian city of Turin is quite distinctive as Italian cities go. It is still Italy, so of course it has its grand piazzas and ornate churches, and pasta and pizza and cappuccinos.

But whereas in so many Italian cities it is the ancient Roman or Renaissance history that is so prominent and celebrated, Turin is very much a 19th century city. Of course, it has a long history and there are lots of important buildings from earlier centuries, but so much of what makes Turin such a unique and fascinating city comes from the 19th century: the colonnaded walkways, the opulent cafes, the enormous Piazza Vittorio and the grand, imposing train station.

And then there are the two most well-known museums, both housed in 19th century buildings: the Egyptian Museum and the Mole Antonelliana, an amazing film museum and the symbol of the city.

But there’s another 19th century museum in Turin that it not so well-known, and was not even open to the general public until relatively recently. If you take a stroll away from the centre of the city, following the long, leafy Parco Valentino which runs along the river Po, there is an unassuming museum which forms part of the University of Turin. It’s a Museum of Criminal Anthropology, and it was established by a man who, in the 19th and early 20th century, was famous across the world for his controversial but very popular theories about criminals.


Cesare Lombroso, the “Father of Criminology”

Cesare Lombroso Words To That Effect Podcast Ep 11Cesare Lombroso believed that criminality was inherited, that there were “born criminals” who could be reliably identified by their physical features.

He was an Italian doctor and psychiatrist and he was one of the first people to really consider “criminality” a subject worthy of scientific study. His ideas were groundbreaking and, despite that the fact that he was unbelievably, spectacularly wrong, he is often referred to as the “father of criminology”.

In this episode I am joined by Prof Christine Ferguson to discuss crime and criminals, science and literature, from Dracula to Jekyll and Hyde. Why were Lombroso’s ideas so appealing? How are they connected to our own views on crime today? What if you really could tell a criminal by his or her outward appearance?


Guest Profile

Professor Christine Ferguson is a Professor in English Studies in the University of Stirling, Scotland. Her research focuses on the entwined histories of the literary gothic and the British occult revival in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

You can find her current research network here:

And the edited collection she is about to publish, with Andrew Radford, is available here

You can view her research and profile here.


3epkano album (Words To That Effect Podcast Ep10 Robinsonade Robinson Crusoe)Music this week was by 3epkano. You can download Hans The Reluctant Wolf Juggler here

Tracks, in the order played:



EP Ross



Works Mentioned


Cesare Lombroso: L’uomo delinquente (Criminal Man)

Cesare Lombroso: La donna delinquente (Criminal Woman)

Bram Stoker: Dracula

Joseph Conrad: The Secret Agent

Robert Louis Stevenson: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

G.W.M. Reynolds: The Mysteries of London



If you like criminology then I’m sure you like true crime stories. Episode 8 is the true story of the most gruesome crime of the 1920s.

Want to know more about science and literature? There’s an episode on medicine, ghost stories and the American west here.

Or how about more Victorian literature? Well, there’s an episode on Sherlock Holmes here.


If you enjoy the episode and want to find out how to support the show then click here for more information.

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Reckon you’re a born criminal? Let me know in the comments below or check out the Words To That Effect Facebook Page

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