Interpsy: Psychology, Criminal Interrogation and the Impact of Knowledge, 1880-1940

Workshop Criminal Interrogation

Criminal Interrogation: Past & Present

Workshop in Utrecht, The Netherlands, 13 September 2024

Suspect interrogations remain a crucial element of criminal investigation today. Interrogations can provide information about motives and circumstances, they can lead detectives on to new evidence, and they are opportunities for criminals to begin to improve their lives. In this workshop, we aim to place the current practice of criminal interrogation in a long-term historical context. Why we interrogate in criminal justice, and why we do it the way we do, is the result of ideas and practices that date back to the middle ages. By tracing continuities and changes over the past centuries, we aim to elucidate this history, both in order to understand its historical role in criminal justice and society, and to make sense of present-day practices.

Several historical moments have had a lasting influence on criminal interrogation. In the late middle ages, the inquisition developed the suspect interrogation as a tool for investigation, which was subsequently adopted by civil criminal justice. Early modern interrogations oscillated between formalism and dialogue. In the eighteenth century, the official restriction and later abolition of torture then raised the expectations of interrogation, leading to a turn to psychology in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, new technologies such as ‘lie detectors’ promised to revolutionise interrogation while sophisticated new psychological interrogation strategies virtually guaranteed confessions. After the Second World War, a renewed attention to human rights led to concerns about undue pressure. In many countries, around 2000, ‘interrogation’ was renamed ‘interview’, in the hope of leaving behind the baggage of abuse and false confessions.

Throughout all these major developments, people tried to balance their various interests. Suspects confessed or refused to confess, spoke or remained silent, followed the rules or tried to subvert them. Interrogators stuck to traditions or ignored them, used force or charm, pushed for a confession or settled for a statement they did not believe. Judges, lawyers, lawmakers, reformers, architects, journalists and the public at large all influenced the course of these interrogations in different ways. In the workshop, we will discuss rules, institutions and ideas about interrogation as well as concrete practices and methodological considerations.

The aim of the workshop is to foster a dialogue between people from different disciplines and working on different times and places. Papers will be pre-circulated. During the workshop, speakers will briefly introduce their paper in the style of a roundtable (max. 8 minutes each), allowing for the focus of the workshop to be on the discussion.

There are limited spaces available for people who want to participate (online or in person) without presenting their own paper. Please contact if you are interested in this.

The workshop is an event of the Research Network for Culture, Law and the Body and is organised as part of the InterPsy project, funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe MSCA programme (project no. 101059129).

Preliminary programme

9h30-10h: Welcome & coffee/tea

10h: Introduction: Elwin Hofman, Questions About Questions: Frameworks to Study Criminal Interrogations Past and Present

10h15: Keynote lecture: Miet Vanderhallen, Title tba

11h: Coffee break

11h15: Interrogation Records & Their Value

Key questions in the session include: what is the value of the records created of interrogations? How are they used in their own time and by historians? What can we learn from them about how interrogations are actually conducted? And how does the history of criminal interrogation help us to interpret them?

  • Gert Gielis, ‘Let Yourself Be Educated!’ What Heresy Interrogations Reveal About Inquisitorial Praxis in the Low Countries (1520-1576)
  • Benjamin Seebröker, Decoding the Legal Narrative. English Depositions as Sources for Interrogational Practices (1730–1830)
  • Claire Eldridge, Questioning Colonised Combatants: The Role of Military Justice Interrogations in the Creation, Consolidation, and Contestation of Colonial Knowledge During the First World War
  • Jan Julia Zurné, Finding the Suspect’s Voice in Mid-20th-Century Theft Cases: Interrogations Versus Letters

12h45: Lunch

13h30: Breakout sessions

Session A: Gender & Interrogation

This session will focus on the gendered nature of interrogations: are men and women interrogated in different ways? Has this changed over time? How do people who are interrogated make use of gendered stereotypes for their own purposes? How does gender relate to other identities, such as class and race, in the interrogation?

  • Hjördis Bohse, Gender as a Multi-Relational Category in East Frisian Court Cases (1643-1744)
  • Marianna Muravyeva, ‘Impossible Not to Trust?’: Using Torture when Interrogating Women in Early Modern Russian Trials for Sex Crimes
  • Belinda Rodríguez Arrocha, Interrogation and Women in Early Modern Canary Islands (17th and 18th Centuries) (online)

14h30-14h40: Short break

  • Felipe Mello, A Community Under Cross-Examination: The Case of Johanna Regina Schneiderin
  • Stéphanie Blot-Maccagnan, L’interrogatoire des femmes, un acte spécifique (XVIIe – XXe siècles) ?


Session B: Interrogation, Science & Technology

In this session we will discuss the influence of scientific and technological innovations on criminal interrogations. How have new forensic techniques altered the role and course of interrogations? How do new technologies afford new ways of interrogating? How do insights from sciences such as psychology affect ideas about proper interrogation methods?

  • Giovanni di Teodoro, The Function of Interrogations and Forensic Medical Evidence in Solving a Case of Veneficium During the Ancien Régime
  • Gianmarco Palmieri, The Origins of Scientific Evidence : The Impact of Hypnotism on Late 19th Century Legal Practice
  • Layla Skinns, ‘Voluntary’ Police Interviews in England and Wales: Technology, Regulation and Reform

14h30-14h40: Short break

  • Laurens Schlicht & Martin Wieser, Interrogation Practices in Historical Perspective: Presentation on a Project for a Special Issue on Interrogation Practices in the German Context
  • Marika Madfors, Police Deception in Suspect Interviews: Would You Know It If You Saw It?

15h20: Coffee break

15h40: Interrogations & Human Rights

The final session examines ethics and human rights in the interrogation. When and how do human rights and ethics play a role in interrogations? How do calls for better protection of suspect rights affect interrogation practice? Are suspects actually better protected in present-day interrogations than in the past? And is there still a future for interrogation in criminal investigation?

  • Martijn van Beek, Investigative Interviewing in The Netherlands: 25 Years After ‘Schiedam’
  • Veljko Turanjanin, Police Interrogation of Juvenile Offenders and the Presence of a Defence Lawyer: From Past to Present
  • Simon Oleszkiewicz, An International Perspective on Evidence-Based Interrogation Training: How Can We Convince Skeptical Practitioners?
  • Christopher E. Kelly, The Futures of Interrogation: Three Paths for Questioning Suspects (or not)

17h: Conclusions (Elwin Hofman) & closing discussion

17h30: Drinks & dinner