BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Defining the Deviant: Crime and British Society, 1888-2000

Unit code HIST31591
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course explores the history of Britain during the late-nineteenth and twentieth century through the prism of debates about the nature of crime and criminality, policing and regulation. By historicizing how those considered ‘deviant’ were identified and contained — from murderers to political or environmental protesters, and those tried for sexual assault and war crimes to colonial villains and profiteers — this course invites students to consider how broader social, cultural, and political processes were understood in relation to the actions of those who transgressed the ‘norm’. Additionally, it interrogates the circulation of ideas about crime: through various kinds of media (such as fiction, theatre, film, and the press); and transnationally between police forces and governments. Key themes: gender, sexuality, race, class, governance, media, urban space, the environment.


HIST31591 is restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes, and Euro Studies (please check your programme regulations for further details).

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas. Available to students on an Erasmus programme subject to VSO approval.


  • To encourage students to critically examine the ways in which historians have approached writing histories of crime and society to date and through what media.
  • To enable students to identify the role of the global and transnational in shaping modes of regulation historically via new technologies of communication and mass media.
  • To challenge students to assess prevailing attitudes towards, and practices of dealing with, those defined as ‘criminal’ or ‘deviant’ through a range of secondary readings and primary sources: including legal and criminological texts, fiction and filmic accounts of detective work and daring ‘capers’, press reports, and police and Home Office case files.      

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:


Defining the Deviant Indicative Course Structure 2018-19

Week 1: Jack the Ripper: the birth of the twentieth century?

Week 2: Introducing the Criminal Classes… Criminology, Social Surveys and the ‘Recidivist.’

Week 3: The Ascent of the Detective? Policing from Sherlock Holmes to Z Cars.

Week 4: Punishing Political Protest: Criminalising the Suffragettes.

Week 5: War and Crime. (Conscientious Objectors and Black Market Profiteers).

Week 6: Buried beneath the sands: Empire and ‘colonial villainy.’

Week 7: Defining and Dealing with Discrimination? The 1968 Race Relations Act.

Week 8: Field trip: Technologies of urban surveillance: space and identity from the street lamp to CCTV at the Greater Manchester Police Museum. With tour by former detectives!

Week 9: Who dares speak? Sexual assault and the rape of knowledge (how sexual consent has been negotiated in relation to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and abortion).

Week 10: Crimes against the planet? CND, Greenpeace and the stigmatisation of environmental protesters.

Week 11: ‘Hooligans’ or Heroes? The Hillsborough Disaster and the Criminalization of Football Supporters in Historic and Contemporary Contexts.

Week 12: Exams revision workshop.

Teaching and learning methods

Seminar activities (various)


Group presentations

Assessments (1 x source commentary, 1x essay, 1x exam)

E-learning tools: Old Bailey Online archive of trials at London’s central criminal court; British Pathé newsreels; Gale Primary Sources and the Making of Modern Law databases (both accessible through John Rylands University Library e-resources).

Knowledge and understanding

  • Critically assess the relationship between crime and social, political, and cultural change in Britain during the late-nineteenth and twentieth century.
  • Understand the development of new techniques of policing public and private space.
  • Identify the role of the media in shaping contemporary attitudes towards crime and criminals.
  • Explain how British legal and penal systems have evolved in tandem with those of other countries.
  • Demonstrate sensitivity to, and evaluate, historic emotional responses to different types of crime.


Intellectual skills

  • Students will be able to understand and critique the existing historiography on crime and policing in Britain in the nineteenth- and twentieth century.
  • They will demonstrate the ability to relate these insights to their examination of the primary sources, and students will have acquired key skills of intertextual analysis through learning to interpret both visual and written material.

Practical skills

Students will demonstrate the following core skills:

  • Essay writing: the ability to articulate a clear, sustained, and coherent argument with appropriate references to both primary and secondary sources.
  • Communication skills: the ability to deliver weekly seminar presentations to the group, and to participate in group work and seminar debates.
  • Research skills: the ability to search online databases of newspapers, trials, and short film clips (e.g. British Pathé) for contextual and biographical information on the events and historical actors we will study.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Written and oral communication skills will be developed through group activities, debate, and presentations.
  • Students will acquire research experience through identifying useful primary and secondary literature to contextualize the topics we discuss.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Analysis of extensive written material and synthesis for diverse audiences Ability to critically integrate ideas from other disciplines, including Law, English, Sociology, Media Studies
Independent learning and research skills
Oral communication
Oral Presentation skills
Ability to martial supporting evidence and scholarship into a compelling argument

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

Feedback methods

Oral feedback on (non-assessed) group presentation and seminar activities - formative 

Written feedback on source commentary and essay (returned electronically) - formative and summative

Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultations and office hours) - formative

Recommended reading

Clive Emsley, Crime and Society in Twentieth Century England (London, 2011).

Anindita Ghosh, Claiming the City: Protest, Crime and Scandals in Colonial Calcutta, c. 1860-1920 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

Judith Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight (Chicago, 1992).

Elizabeth Carolyn Miller, Framed: The New Woman Criminal in British Culture at the Fin de Siècle (Michigan, 2008).

Christine Grandy, ‘The Empire and Human Interest: Popular Empire Films, the Colonial Villain, and the British Documentary Movement,’ Twentieth Century British History (Feb 2014).

Frank Mort, Capital Affairs (Yale, 2012).

Matt Houlbrook, Queer London (Chicago, 2005).

Joanna Bourke, Rape: A History from 1860 to the Present Day (London, 2008).

Louis A. Knafla (ed.), Policing and War in Europe (London, 2002).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Eloise Moss Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Assessment Methods

Source Commentary, summative, 1000 words, 20%

Essay, summative, 3000 words, 40%

Exam, summative, 2 hours, 40%


Return to course details