Crime and Punishment: England in Comparative Perspective 1650-1900

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Sunday 17 January 2021
Friday 26 March 2021
10 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

The history of English criminal justice forms the core of this option; on some topics the scope is extended to include France and Germany. We begin with the evolution of common-law and Roman-canon methods of prosecuting, asking why the English adopted trial by jury, and why Continental courts institutionalised judicial torture. We then survey a range of criminal courts in England - coroner's courts, quarter sessions and assizes - looking at how they worked and how people used them.

We ask what differences social status and gender made, and do a case study of infanticide. Changing practices in policing, prosecuting, trying, pardoning and punishing are then investigated. We read Foucault's influential interpretation of the history of punishment, and consider the processes which led to the reform of the criminal law and the end of public execution. Throughout we are concerned with questions of historical causation, and with the political and ideological contexts of criminal justice. The history of feelings is also a recurrent theme.

Module aims

1.To provide a critical overview of the history of the English criminal justice system up to the late nineteenth century.
2.To employ relevant theoretical perspectives, e.g., Foucault, psychoanalysis, the concept of cultural hegemony.
3.To account for the distinctiveness of the English legal system in comparison with continental European legal systems and the Scottish legal system.
4.To explain the meanings, origins, purposes and development of legal concepts.
5.To provide an account of how social, political, religious, scientific and philosophical factors have shaped the evolution of criminal justice systems.

Module learning outcomes

1.A historical understanding of how and why legal systems differ.
2.Historical and philosophical perspectives on punishments, including the death penalty.
3.An awareness of how theory and comparative history can enhance historical knowledge and understanding.
4.Knowledge of legal terminology, concepts and thinking.
5.Knowledge of key developments in English criminal justice history during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Module information

For introductory reading, see:

John Langbein, Torture and the Law of Proof: Europe and England in the Ancien Regime.

Douglas Hay, ‘Property, Authority and the Criminal Law’, in Hay et al., (eds), Albion’s Fatal Tree.

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish.

Drew Grey, Crime, Policing and Punishment in England, 1660-1914.

Learning and teaching methods

One-hour lecture and one-hour seminar per week.


This module does not appear to have any essential texts. To see non-essential items, please refer to the module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Essay 1 (1250 words)    25% 
Coursework   Essay 2 (1250 words)    25% 
Coursework   Portfolio (2500 words)    50% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Catherine Crawford, email:
Dr Catherine Crawford
Belinda Waterman, Department of History, 01206 872313



External examiner

Dr Mark Williams
Cardiff University
Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 20 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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