Crime in the 1700s
The two Case Study assignments are your opportunity to conduct your own historical research and to gain a better sense of the limitations and scope of the sources historians work with. For history students, research papers are most familiar, while, for students in other disciplines, such as criminal justice and sociology, in-depth case studies are more common. This assignment allows you to combine both approaches to produce a close analysis of two cases featuring a specific type of crime, and to incorporate into this analysis an understanding of the historical context for the crime you've chosen.
In completing this assignment, you will learn how to approach primary sources (in this case, transcripts of court cases from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), how to analyze these sources within the historical context in which the crimes occurred, and how to apply the knowledge you've acquired about the history of crime and punishment to a specific set of cases, using the primary source material to lead you to educated assumptions. This is the process that historians engagehen they analyze historical documents, and it is a process that will lead you a fuller understanding of how crime impacted and intersected with the lives of ordinary people in past societies. Instructions
Begin at the home page of the Old Bailey Online. On the left-hand side of the page, click Search . Under Offence , select the type of crime you're interested in researching. Under Time Period, select January 1700 and December 1900. Then click the red Search button at the bottom of the page.
Once you've completed your search, a list of cases will pop up. You may find that you want to search for a few different types of crime before you settle on the one that interests you most. You will also discover that some of the transcripts of cases are incredibly brief, and you may need to read through several before you find two cases with enough information on which to base your Case Analysis. Select two cases which represent interesting aspects of the crime you've chosen. You may decide to select a case from early in the 1700s, and another case from the later 1800s, in order to show how legal or social reactions to certain crimes changed over time. You may also choose to focus on two cases which highlight different attitudes to different types of offenders (men, women, children, the poor, the wealthy…etc). The only rule is that the two cases must feature the same type of crime (e.g.: you cannot compare a case of theft with a case of infanticide).
Once you've selected the two cases you wish to consider, read through the details of each case, making note of elements of the case that interest you, or which generate questions.
Find at least three, and no more than five, secondary sources which speak to the crime you've chosen. One source can be drawn from the course readings, but the other two sources must be articles or books not listed as part of the materials for the course. You're welcome to choose sources from the list of supplementary readings contained on the course website. These sources are all from reputable, academic journals and books, and are excellent readings to use as a starting point for research. You may find that the footnotes or endnotes in these sources will point out other articles and books which may be useful to you, thereby cutting down on your need to conduct searches of the entire Guelph Library catalogue (which can be overwhelming). A list of secondary sources has also been compiled which includes relevant sources organized by topic. Should you choose to use any sources not included in this list or in the list of course readings or supplementary readings, make sure to consult me as soon as possible in order to ensure that you've selected appropriate sources. Wikipedia, online blogs, dictionaries, and encyclopaedias are not considered appropriate sources for an assignment at this level. Please use the library's website to find academic, peer-reviewed journals or books.
After you've read through your primary and secondary sources, you're ready to complete the Case Analysis. The goal of this assignment is to use the primary source material (the court cases) and the knowledge you've gained from the course material and the secondary sources (the articles and books you've read) to make an overall argument. Your essay should not merely describe the two cases, or summarize the articles you've read. Instead, your essay must have a clear thesis, and must demonstrate your ability to make an educated conclusion about the subject you've chosen. You may choose to argue that attitudes to your chosen crime changed over time in a specific way, or that legal and social attitudes to your crime diverged as a result of a specific factor, or set of factors. Your analysis will be assessed based on four areas: the depth of analysis and the level of detail, the relevance and use of your sources, your overall writing style, and the formatting of your essay and bibliography.
In general, most history papers follow a traditional format (intro & thesis, point one, point two, point three, conclusion). History essays are argumentative in nature, and they should be built around a strong argument that is based on primary and secondary source materials. Since this is a short essay, it would be helpful to structure your essay like this:
Introduction (including a thesis statement)
P1: a brief summary of the two cases
P2-P4: an explanation of social/cultural/legal attitudes to this crime. These paragraphs should reinforce your thesis. If attitudes changed over time, how and why did they do so? You can return to evidence in the two cases to support your points
Conclusion (sum up your arguments)
Remember, the most important element of your essay is your argument. Don't just summarize what you've read. Make a statement about how these primary sources highlight some important legal and social attitudes to your crime, and, conversely, how these attitudes impacted how this particular crime was dealt with by the justice system. Keep in mind that one of the easiest and clearest arguments to make is to identify a change occurring over time. A case in 1700 is going to be different from a case in 1900. Your job is to pinpoint why, and to suggest how social attitudes influence this change.