What is a crime? Who gets to define and punish crimes? How have answers to these questions fluctuated across time and across the globe as English law went to new places—to North America, South Asia, Australia, and beyond? How did criminal law define relations between Britons and indigenous peoples around the world?
We will think about these questions by focusing largely on the period 1600 to 1850 or so. Doing so will help us think about problems we face today: mass incarceration, capital punishment, the origins and function of prisons, connections between the crime and slavery, changing procedures in criminal law, and challenges in ensuring criminal prosecutions produce just results. We will begin by looking closely at crime and law in England, especially in London, then look outward.
We will read the works of selected historians. But we will concentrate our efforts on sources that shed light on past ideas and practices: case reports, newspapers, court records, maps and building plans, legal treatises, and paintings and engravings. As a seminar, students are expected to be active participants by producing short writing in response to our readings and by engaging in lively discussion of the assigned materials during our meetings. Students may be asked to produce and present small research projects.