Professor Robert Shoemaker
ContactProfessor of Eighteenth-Century British History
M.A., Ph.D. (Stanford) FRHistS
17th-19th c. British Social and Cultural History; Crime and Punishment; Gender; London; Digital and Public History
+44 (0)114 22 22584
Jessop West room 1.08
Office hours: Email firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment
Robert Shoemaker is Professor of Eighteenth-Century British history. His main interests lie in social and cultural history, particularly urban history, gender history, and the history of crime, justice and punishment, and in the use of digital technologies in historical research. His first book, Prosecution and Punishment: Petty Crime and the Law in London and Rural Middlesex, ca. 1660-1725, (1991) examined the social impact of the prosecution of petty crime in London. A developing interest in gender led him to write Gender in English Society, 1650-1850: The Emergence of Separate Spheres? (1998) and edit a collection, with Mary Vincent, Gender and History in Western Europe (1998). Combining his interests on gender and crime, he subsequently wrote articles on masculinity and violence, public defamation, and public punishments, focusing particularly on eighteenth-century London.
These articles led to the publication of The London Mob: Violence and Disorder in Eighteenth-Century England (Hambledon and London, 2004), which charts the changing nature of public conflict in eighteenth-century London, focusing on street life, litigation, and the press. It documents the decline of the defamatory public insult and public violence; the changing character of duelling; the transformation of popular responses to public punishments such as the pillory; the changing character of popular protest; and the new role played by print in shaping public life.
He is co-director, with Professor Tim Hitchcock at the University of Hertfordshire and Professor Clive Emsley of the Open University, of the Old Bailey Proceedings Online, which created a fully searchable edition of the entire run of published accounts of trials which took place at the Old Bailey from 1674 to 1913, and, with Hitchcock, London Lives, 1690-1800: Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis, a fully searchable edition of 240,000 manuscript records and fifteen datasets which makes it possible to compile biographies of eighteenth-century Londoners.
Since 2010 he has co-directed three further completed projects: Connected Histories (an integrated search facility for interrogating more than twenty major electronic resources in British history, 1500-1800); Locating London's Past, (a mapping facility which allows a wide body of digital resources relating to early modern and eighteenth-century London to be mapped onto a fully GIS compliant version of John Rocque's 1746 map); and Crime in the Community (a project which evaluated use of the Old Bailey Online and implemented a series of new tools and online facilities to allow educationalists and researchers to make more effective use of the site). In January 2011 he and Hitchcock were awarded the Longman-History Today Trustees Award, presented to a person, persons or organisation that has made a major contribution to history, for their work on the Old Bailey and London Lives projects.
He is currently co-director of The Digital Panopticon: The Global Impact of London Punishments, 1780-1925, an AHRC funded 'Digital Transformations' project which will use digital technologies to bring together existing and new genealogical, biometric and criminal justice datasets in order to explore the impact of the different types of penal punishments on the lives of 66,000 people convicted at The Old Bailey between 1780 and 1865.
Professor Shoemaker has just completed a book, co-written with Tim Hitchcock, London Lives: Poverty, Crime and the Making of a Modern City, 1690-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2014), which argues for the importance of plebeian agency in the shaping of modern social policy. This will be published as an e-book, with live links to the primary and secondary sources on which it is based.
His current research examines how knowledge about crime was created in eighteenth-century London. Through analysis of the literature of crime and by examining evidence of its reception in private correspondence and diaries, he is examining how the explosion of print culture shaped public attitudes towards crime. The initial fruits of this work can be seen in his articles on changing representations of highway robbery and the representation of crime and criminal justice in the Old Bailey Proceedings, a chapter on print culture and the creation of public knowledge about crime, and a book of case studies about notorious eighteenth-century criminals he co-wrote with Tim Hitchcock, Tales from the Hanging Court. Future publications will examine Londoners' experiences of crime and criminal justice as recorded in their diaries and correspondence, and the phenomenon of the criminal celebrity.
Building on his previous digital projects, he is current co-director of The Digital Panopticon: The Global Impact of London Punishments, 1780-1925 , an AHRC funded 'Digital Transformations' project which will use digital technologies to bring together existing and new genealogical, biometric and criminal justice datasets in order to explore the impact of the different types of penal punishments on the lives of 66,000 people convicted at The Old Bailey between 1780 and 1865.
Professor Shoemaker's teaching includes a third year document-based module on crime, justice and punishment in eighteenth-century London (special subject) and contributions to MA modules on topics in eighteenth-century English history and the digital humanities. He welcomes postgraduate students interested in any aspect of eighteenth-century English social and cultural history, particularly topics relating to gender, urban history, print culture, crime, justice and punishment, and the digital humanities.
Julie Banham - Dining practices in eighteenth-century Sheffield (completed her dissertation in 2012).
Helen Churcher - The 'Criminal Classes': Public and Official Comprehension of Habitual Offending in England, 1770-1870.
Anna Jenkin - Perceptions of the Murderess in Eighteenth-century London and Paris, 1674-1789.
Nigel Cavanagh (second supervisor) - Industrialising Communities in South Yorkshire, 1650-1850: A Case Study of Elsecar.
Kate Davison (second supervisor) - A Social History of Humour, 1690-1730.
Kristine Tomlinson (second supervisor) - Clerk, Physician, Scribe: A Biography of the Reverend Isaiah Parker MD, 1752-1848.
(with Tim Hitchcock)
London Lives: Poverty, Crime and the Making of a Modern City, 1690-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2015)
London Lives is a fascinating new study which exposes, for the first time, the lesser-known experiences of eighteenth-century thieves, paupers, prostitutes and highwaymen. It charts the experiences of hundreds of thousands of Londoners who found themselves submerged in poverty or prosecuted for crime, and surveys their responses to illustrate the extent to which plebeian Londoners influenced the pace and direction of social policy. Calling upon a new body of evidence, the book illuminates the lives of prison escapees, expert manipulators of the poor relief system, celebrity highwaymen, lone mothers and vagrants, revealing how they each played the system to the best of their ability in order to survive in their various circumstances of misfortune. In their acts of desperation, the authors argue that the poor and criminal exercised a profound and effective form of agency that changed the system itself, and shaped the evolution of the modern state.
Tales from the Hanging Court (Arnold, 2006, pbk 2007)
A collection of fascinating Old Bailey trials which illustrate the history of crime and criminal justice and the colourful, vibrant and sometimes scandalous world of eighteenth-century London.
The London Mob: Violence and Disorder in Eighteenth-Century England, (Hambledon and London, 2004)
By 1700 London was the largest city in the world, with over 500,000 inhabitants. Very weakly policed, its streets saw regular outbreaks of rioting by a mob easily stirred by economic grievances, politics or religion. If the mob vented its anger more often on property than people, eighteenth-century Londoners frequently came to blows over personal disputes in a society where men and women were quick to defend their honour. Slanging matches easily turned to fisticuffs and slights on honour were avenged in duels. In this world, where the detection and prosecution of crime was the part of the business of the citizen, punishment, whether by the pillory, whipping at a cart's tail or hanging at Tyburn, was public and endorsed by crowds. The Mob draws a fascinating portrait of the public life of the modern world's first great city.
A lively social history of the roles of men and women - from workplace to household, from parish church to alehouse, from market square to marriage bed. Robert Shoemaker investigates such varied topics as crime, leisure, the theatre, religious observance, notions of morality and even changing patterns of sexual activity itself.
Prosecution and Punishment: Petty Crime and the Law in London and Rural Middlesex, c.1660-1725, (Cambridge University Press, 1991)
The law was one of the most potent sources of authority and stability in early modern England. Historians, however, have argued over whether the discretion and flexibility embodied in the judicial system was used as a method of social control, and by focusing their attention on felonies and on the action of the protagonists in judicial decisions they have tended to ignore rich sources of information concerning attitudes towards and experiences of the law. Misdemeanour prosecutions affected many more people (and a broader social variety of participants) than felony prosecutions, and in their choice of methods of prosecution both victims and Justices of the Peace exercised considerably greater flexibility in responding to petty crimes than they did with felonies. This book examines the day-to-day operation of the criminal justice system in Middlesex from the point of view of plaintiffs and defendants, and offers an assessment of the social significance of the law in pre-industrial England.
(with Tim Hitchcock and Jane Winters), Connected Histories, www.connectedhistories.org (2011)
(with Matthew Davies and Tim Hitchcock), Locating London's Past, www.locatinglondon.org (2010)
(with Tim Hitchcock), London Lives, 1690-1800: Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis, www.londonlives.org (2010)
(with Tim Hitchcock and Clive Emsley), The Old Bailey Proceedings Online, 1674-1913, www.oldbaileyonline.org (2003-2008)
‘Representing the Adversary Criminal Trial: Lawyers in the Old Bailey Proceedings, 1770-1800’, in David Lemmings, ed., Courtrooms and the Public Sphere in Britain, 1700-1850 (Ashgate, 2012), pp. 71-91
'Print Culture and the Creation of Public Knowledge about Crime in Eighteenth-Century London', in Crime Prevention, Surveillance and Restorative Justice: Effects of Social Technologies, edited by Paul Knepper, Jonathan Doak and Joanna Shapland (2009)
'The Old Bailey Proceedings and the Representation of Crime and Criminal Justice in Eighteenth-Century London', Journal of British Studies 47 (2008), pp. 559-580.
'The Street Robber and the Gentleman Highwayman: Changing Representations and Perceptions of Robbery in London, 1690-1800', Cultural and Social History 3 (2006), pp. 381-405.
'The Taming of the Duel: Masculinity, Honour and Ritual Violence in London, 1660-1800', Historical Journal, (2002)
'Male Honour and the Decline of Public Violence in Eighteenth-Century London', Social History, (2001)
'The Decline of Public Insult in London, 1660-1800', Past and Present, (2000)
Module Leader - Poor Man, Sick Man, Beggar Man, Thief: 18th Century Digital Lives, HST2024 (Second Year optional module)
As the first modern city, eighteenth-century London not only experienced high levels of poverty, crime, and disease, but it also saw the development of innovative methods of addressing those problems. Taking advantage of the largest database of manuscript records ever digitised (London Lives, a project based in this Department), this module will introduce students to the interpretation of the records of poor relief, criminal justice and hospitals. Using sophisticated record linkage techniques, students will be able to trace Londoners' lives as they negotiated the various agencies of charity and local and central government in order to survive in a modern metropolis. Biographies compiled by students will be posted on the London Lives website.
Module Leader - Crime and the Law in Eighteenth-Century London, HST3019-3020 (Third Year special subject module)
Eighteenth-century Londoners thought they were besieged by crime, particularly violent crime. These concerns were extensively discussed in print, and they contributed to reforms in policing (such as the creation of the Bow Street Runners); trial procedures (such as the greater use of courtroom lawyers, as recently portrayed in the TV series 'Garrow's Law'); and punishment (notably the introduction of transportation and imprisonment). These transformed the judicial system into something very similar to what we have today.
These debates about crime, together with the rich surviving judicial records, make it possible for modern historians to assess for themselves the nature and significance of the crime problem and changes in criminal justice, and a rich and combative historiography on the topic has developed in recent years. Should high levels of crime be interpreted as the products of urbanisation, economic change, and class conflict, or were perceptions of crime essentially imagined fears, remote from the real experiences of street life? Should the innovative official responses also be seen as a form of emerging class conflict, or as part of the development of the modern state, or as the realisation of humanitarian ideals?
A wide range of primary sources will be studied, centring around the detailed accounts of trial proceedings at the Old Bailey, available online at www.oldbaileyonline.org. These will be contextualised with criminal biographies; manuscript witness depositions and examinations of suspects; ballads; the writings of social commentators, including Daniel Defoe and Henry Fielding; reforming tracts, such as those written by Patrick Colquhoun and John Howard; satirical prints (especially those by William Hogarth); Daniel Defoe's novel Moll Flanders; and newspaper accounts. Virtually all the primary sources for this module are available online.
Lecturer - The 'Disenchantment' of Early Modern Europe, c. 1570-1770, HST115 (First Year compulsory module)
This module explores the fundamental shifts in mental attitudes and public behaviour that occurred in Europe between the age of the Reformation and the age of the Enlightenment. The central focus of the course will be the examination of the supernatural – religious beliefs, but also witchcraft and magic. You will explore the changing ways in which beliefs impinged on people's lives at various social levels. You will also have an opportunity to study the impact on people's world views of such changes as rising literacy, urbanisation, state formation and new discoveries about the natural world. All these will be investigated in the institutional contexts of state and church and the ways in which they sought to channel and mould beliefs and behaviour. This module enables you to understand how the early modern period is distinctive from and links medieval and later modern historical studies.
Module Leader - Introduction to Digital Humanities, FCA610 (Postgraduate module)
This team-taught module introduces students to issues and challenges of data creation, analysis, dissemination, and re-use. Through a series of case studies from different Humanities disciplines it evaluates the ways in which digital technology has the potential to transform how scholars conduct research and the type of questions they can ask of the material they study. Topics discussed include: techniques for collecting and/or creating data, markup and metadata, data mining and data visualisation, and user-generated content.
Module Leader - Advanced Digital Humanities, FCA615 (Postgraduate module)
This module further develops expertise in digital methodologies through hands-on exercises in which students work with existing data and resources and critique the results. Methodologies include: identifying user requirements, creating markup and metadata, using corpus linguistics and data visualisations, encouraging user engagement and crowd sourcing, and designing interfaces.
In the Media
Centre for Metropolitan History, Institute of Historical Research - Steering Committee
ESRC Peer Review College - Member
London Journal - Editorial Board Member
Royal Historical Society - Fellow
University Administrative Roles
Professor Shoemaker is Faculty Director of Research and Innovation (Arts and Humanities) and Deputy Director of the Centre for Criminological Research. Between 2004 and 2008 he was Head of the History Department.