Crime and punishment in Britain c.1700-1900
Deborah Oxley


What is crime? How should society punish deviants and offenders? What is the nature of criminal justice and its supporting institutions? These are enduring questions, faced by all societies across time.  This course traces the British experience over the 18th and 19th centuries, when the key institutions and practices of modern law, enforcement and punishment were forged.  It was a period of revolution in penal thought. The course examines the definition of crime and deviance and its enactment in law, the development of crime control institutions and practices, and the role of discretion in the application of British justice. Particular attention is paid to punishment: the functioning of capital punishment, the search for alternatives, the battle over what mode of secondary punishment to adopt – transportation or incarceration – and the rise of the modern prison. The course also considers issues around who was caught within the net of criminal justice, including the creation of juvenile delinquency, women as criminals and as victims, and the rise of professional criminals and gangs.    The course ranges from microhistories to macro topics as it traces the rise and fall of the Bloody Code and the emergence of the modern system that we know today.

The paper runs over eight two-hour sessions in Hilary and/or Trinity terms.

It is assessed on the basis of an exam at the end of Trinity term (week 9), or two 5,000 word essays due noon of Monday Week 6 of Trinity term.

Technical matters are discussed at the end of the course guide (see bibliography).


Week 1

Crime and History

Week 2

The Bloody Code: Law and Punishment

Week 3

Secondary Punishments: Transportation vs Incarceration

Week 4

Detection and Prosecution

Week 5

The Courts

Week 6

Moral panics and Moral Entrepreneurs

Week 7

Inventing Juvenile Delinquency

Week 8

Women: Criminals and Victims