Crime, Justice and Society in Medieval and Early Modern Times : Thirty Years of Crime and Criminal Justice History
By Xavier Rousseaux and Kevin Dwyer
Crime, Histoire & Sociétés /Crime, History & Societies, Vol. 1:1 (1997)
Abstract: This article, prepared as a tribute to H.A. Diederiks, sketches a panorama of the research and writing of the history of crime in Europe since the 1960s. It begins by tackling the historiographical roots of this new area before moving on to discuss the kinds of sources which have been used and the ways in which they have been exploited. The principal results of thirty years of research into the profile of crime and criminals, of penal repression and the maintenance of order are traced. Finally, a comparative reading of the contribution of the history of crime and criminal justice to social history, and of social history to the history of crime and justice urges a closer integration of penal history with social history.
Introduction: The historiography of the variety of subjects which are grouped under the generic term « History of Crime and Criminal Justice » is not easy to unravel. As a relatively new area of history, this sub-discipline does not have any long-established tradition, nor any institutional points of reference, nor any specialised research implements at its disposal.
The first organised study group to appear in the area was the Nederlandse Werkgroep Strafrechtgeschiedenis, founded in 1973 notably by Herman Diederiks. The group organised two international meetings in 1977 in Amsterdam and Leiden devoted to the history of crime, and another at the Economic and Social History Conference in Edinburgh in 1978. Following on from these, the International Association for the History of Crime and Criminal Justice was established as became the first regular meeting point of researchers who until then had been dispersed in various branches of history – as well as combining institutional and legal, economic and social, political, anthropological and cultural, with the practices of other researchers in the social sciences (jurists, criminologists, sociologists, anthropologists).
Between 1978 and 1995, the association organised a number of intercontinental conferences and about twenty thematic colloquia, which mainly took place, most appropriately, at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris. They also began publishing a Newsletter in 1972, subsequently called the Bulletin.
In a short time, signs of maturity in this new research domain have multiplied, extending from the creation of national networks of Crime and Criminal Justice historians as in Germany, to international networks created within associations such as the Social Science History Association to specialised sessions at international meetings such as the recent International Congress of Historical Sciences or the newly-created European Social Science History Conference, and, finally, to specialised journals and reviews.