Since its beginnings in the 1980s, historical research on crime has developed as a flourishing field of research in the German-speaking regions. In particular the hermeneutic decoding of legal examination records, prosecutions and verdicts have opened up unique insights into the (conflict rich) everyday world of late medieval and early modern life. At the same time it can be shown that pre-modern criminal courts did not impose draconian punishments, but had a wide variety of sanctions at their disposal. Following the initial phase, historians of crime devoted themselves to the 19th and – albeit to a very limited extent – the 20th centuries.
As a result of their work, criminal historians have played a significant role in the formation and establishment of new sub-disciplines and approaches within the historical sciences. In particular, the New Cultural History, Historical Anthropology, and also Critical Discourse Analysis were significantly influenced by the work of historians of crime.
However, historical crime research has seen fewer innovations in recent years. Theoretical and methodological impulses today come from other research directions such as global history and the history of capitalism, post colonial and material culture studies.
In the coming years, there will be a generational change in historical studies on crime and criminal justice. It is therefore a suitable time to ask what new turns current and future research might take. In addition, the question arises as to how the potential of the digital humanities can used fruitfully when discussing criminal history. With which contents and approaches can the study of criminal history be revitalised?
This conference in Bern - which will also act as the 8th Colloquium on Crime and Criminal Justice in the Early Modern and Modern Periods - therefore aims to discuss new topics, methods and perspectives in the field of criminal history. We will ask whether and how the field of research can be connected to current debates within the historical sciences and how these debates can enrich crime research and vice versa.
We are particularly interested in empirical or conceptually oriented contributions that link criminal history with other sub-disciplines of history and cultural studies. This concerns for example - but by no means exclusively - the following topics, perspectives and methodological approaches.
• Global History and Transnationality: Transnationality and global history are booming. Of particular interest here are transnational and global forms of crime and crime control. Territorial borders, their overcoming or shifting have always been important for the constitution of crime and criminal justice. At the same time, 'criminals' also cross territorial borders. Border areas were often particularly difficult territories to govern, where crime thrived – either real or imagined.
• Migration and Crime: Closely related to transnational, global-historical, and also (post) colonial perspectives is the question of migration. In 21st century societies, debates on crime are often linked to debates on migration - a phenomenon paraphrased as ‘crimmigration’. There is a great need for transepochal research in this area.
• Crime and Intersectionality: while (in)equality in court and gendered perspectives are well established in criminal history, the approach of intersectionality offers broader possibilities to elaborate discrimination and privilege in the field of crime and criminal justice. How can intersectional perspectives - which focus on intersections of and interactions between discriminatory (or privileging) structural categories - specifically be made more fruitful for research on criminal history?
• Post (Colonialism) and Crime: (Post) colonial approaches examine the effects of colonial rule before and after the end of European empires. The role of crime and criminal justice in the context of colonial or colonial-like expansion, but also decolonization, is still largely a desideratum. At the same time, reading court records counterintuitively suggests that the agency of the colonized can also be examined in innovative ways.
• Crime and Capitalism: The historical study of capitalism has been on the rise since the financial crisis of 2007/08. Although capitalism is often equated with modernity, the beginnings of this economic system date back to the late Middle Ages. Capitalist economies did not exist independently of state regulations. Which role did criminal courts play in the protection of property, trade and accumulation of capital? Where did the boundaries between legal and illegal forms of accumulation lie? These and other questions that could inform the study of capitalism still seem largely unanswered.
• Criminal and Environmental History: Environmental history has become more relevant in the wake of the climate crisis and interdisciplinary research on the Anthropocene. What role did crime and criminal justice play in managing and protecting the environment as a public good since the late Middle Ages?
• Criminal History and Animal Studies: Animal studies has recently provided important impulses for the study of history. What role did animals play in the field of both crime and criminal justice? Are they assets worthy of protection, booty, or perhaps even actors? To what extent did this aspect correspond with the emergence of the modern animal protection movement from the mid-19th century?
• Criminal History as Contemporary History: While the roots of the history of crime in the German-speaking world lie in late medieval and early modern studies, the 19th and to some extent the early 20th centuries have in the meantime received greater consideration. In contrast, research on the period after 1945 and especially on the last three decades of the 20th century is more scarce. The time is opportune to focus on post-1970 developments. The 'post-boom' period was characterized by profound social, economic and cultural change. How this affected crime, perceptions of crime, and the fight against crime has so far hardly been explored.
• Criminality and Material Culture: Criminal history has also placed its focus on crime as a symbolic interaction. Thus, the reconstruction of symbolic worlds and sensibilities has often been in the foreground. The most important example of this is ‘honor’, which was constitutive for some types of crime until the early 20th century. The Material Culture approach, which has been popular for some years, focuses less on experiences and discourses than on artifacts and tangible things. It would be particularly interesting in the case of theft and robbery to pay close attention to which things changed hands and how this changed over time.
• Criminal History and the Digital Humanities: Recent interdisciplinary research is increasingly focusing on the possibilities (and impossibilities) of digital humanities. The conference will provide an opportunity to discuss projects that deal with new technologies and digital methods in the field of historical crime research.
This list of topics is not final, but should be understood as preliminary. The conference is open for further innovative topics, methods and perspectives! Presentations should not exceed 20 minutes and can be held either in German or English.
Please send a one-page abstract (max. 300 words, in German or English) with the title of the paper and an outline of the content together with a short CV (one page) in a PDF file to Maurice Cottier, email: email@example.com
The deadline for submission of proposals is October 1, 2023.
Date and Location:
The conference will be held at the University of Bern, Switzerland from June 19 (arrival) until June 22, 2024.
The organizing team is seeking funding for overnight accommodation for speakers.
Tina Adam, Universität Bern, Historisches Institut, firstname.lastname@example.org
Maurice Cottier, Universität Freiburg, Departement für Zeitgeschichte, email@example.com
Joachim Eibach, Universität Bern, Historisches Institut, firstname.lastname@example.org