Professor Robert Shoemaker

M.A., Ph.D. (Stanford) FRHistS

Department of History

Professor of Eighteenth-Century British History

Photo of Bob Shoemaker
Profile picture of Photo of Bob Shoemaker

I am an Emeritus Professor of British history, after having worked in the Department between 1991 and 2022. My main interests lie in social and cultural history between 1650 and 1900, particularly the history of crime, justice and punishment, urban and gender history, and the use of digital technologies in historical research. Working with Sheffield’s Digital Humanities Institute and in partnership with colleagues at other universities, I have created several web-based digital platforms, notably the Old Bailey Proceedings Online.

First Publications

My 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 me 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 my interests on gender and crime, I 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.

The Old Bailey Online and Associated Projects

I am co-director, with Professor Tim Hitchcock and the late Professor Clive Emsley, 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 online edition of 240,000 manuscript records and fifteen datasets which makes it possible to compile biographies of eighteenth-century Londoners. Using material from this resource, Hitchcock and I published a monograph, London Lives: Poverty, Crime and the Making of a Modern City, 1690-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2016). Another project, Locating London’s Past, allowed data from the Old Bailey, London Lives, and other datasets to be mapped onto fully GIS compliant historical maps of London.

In January 2011 Hitchcock and I were awarded the Longman-History Today Trustees Award, presented to a person, persons or organisation that has made a major contribution to history, for our work on the Old Bailey and London Lives projects.

Print Culture

I then researched how knowledge about crime was created in eighteenth and nineteenth-century London. Through analysis of the literature of crime and by examining evidence of its reception in private correspondence and diaries, I examined how the explosion of print culture shaped public attitudes towards crime. Results of this work can be seen in my 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, the article on 'Worrying about Crime: Experience, moral panics and public opinion in London, 1660-1800', and an article about the phenomenon of the criminal celebrity.

The Digital Panopticon

I was co-investigator of the project which created the Digital Panopticon: Tracing London Convicts in Britain and  Australia 1780-1925, a consolidated collection of fifty datasets of criminal justice and civil records relating to 90,000 men and women convicted at the Old Bailey. The ‘life archives’ created by this website allow one to trace the life histories, including births and deaths and crimes and punishments of individual convicts. My study of the penal outcomes of those who were sentenced to death led to the chapter I wrote, ‘Sparing the Noose: Death Sentences and the Pardoning of Old Bailey Convicts, 1763-1868’.

I was principal investigator of a British Academy funded digital research project which has extracted 76,000 descriptions of tattooed convicts from the Digital Panopticon database, used visualisations to identify key patterns in this richly detailed data over the period 1791-1925, and determined the changing meaning and significance of tattooing in English society. This led to an article I wrote with Zoe Alker, ‘Convict Tattoos and the Cultural Significance of Tattooing in Nineteenth-Century Britain’.

Victims and Criminal Justice

I was also co-investigator on the ESRC project, Victims’ Access to Justice through English Criminal Courts, 1675 to the present, which examined the changing combination of rights, resources and responsibilities accorded to victims of crime in England over three centuries. I oversaw the creation and analysis of a new database of victims of crime at the Old Bailey, 1674-1913 derived from the Old Bailey Proceedings, and researched the roles of the statutory rewards system, legal counsel and the police in encouraging and managing prosecutions, as the role of the victim in the judicial process was radically transformed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This research was published in the book, Pam Cox, Robert Shoemaker and Heather Shore, Victims and Criminal Justice: A History (Oxford, 2023). An article on the impact of financial rewards on the prosecution of crime in the eighteenth century was published in Continuity and Change.

Research interests

Current research

Tim Hitchcock and I recently completed a major update to the Old Bailey Online, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the launch of the website in 2023. This involved a comprehensive rebuild of the search engine, a new, mobile-friendly website design, updates to all the historical background pages, and data corrections and enhancements. This will be followed by updates to London Lives and Locating London’s Past. Future projects include a study of evolution of the modern anglophone criminal trial, and further research into the print culture of crime in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Research group

Research supervision

I am no longer taking new PhD students.

Current Students

All current students

Completed Students
  • Laura Alston - Looking at the Localised: The Emotional Language of Women in England 1700-1830.
  • Nicola Jakubowski - Masculine Gentry Identity in the Long Eighteenth Century: A Case Study of Cannon Hall
  • Aoife O'Connor - An Ancestor in Crime: Digitisation and the Discovery of Family Deviance
  • Eleanor Bland - The Identification of Criminal Suspects by Policing Agents in London, 1780-1850.
  • Lucy Huggins - Crime and Economies of Makeshift: Experiences of Poverty in the Old Bailey, 1750-1799.
  • Kate Gibson - Experiences of Illegitimacy in England, 1660-1834.
  • Helen Churcher - Understandings of Habitual Criminality in England from 1770 to 1870.
  • Nigel Cavanagh (Second supervisor) - Industrialising Communities: A Case Study of Elsecar Circa 1750-1850.
  • Kate Davison (Second supervisor) - Ned Ward and a Social History of Humour in Early Eighteenth-Century England.
  • Anna Jenkin - Perceptions of the Murderess in London and Paris: 1674-1789.
  • Julie Banham - Politeness in Eighteenth-Century Sheffield: Practices, Accoutrements and Spaces for Sociability.
  • Richard Ward - Print Culture and Responses to Crime in Mid Eighteenth-Century London.


Find out more about PhD study in History

Teaching interests

I am no longer engaged in teaching.

Professional activities and memberships

Administrative roles:

Between 2004 and 2008 I was Head of the History Department, and between 2014 and 2018 I was Faculty Director of Research and Innovation (Arts and Humanities).




Journal articles


  • Shoemaker R (2022) Sparing the NooseCultural Histories of Law, Media and Emotion (pp. 237-258). Routledge 
  • Shoemaker RB (2015) Fear of Crime in Eighteenth-Century London In Champion M & Lynch A (Ed.), Understanding Emotions in Early Europe (pp. 233-249). Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols. View this article in WRRO 
  • Shoemaker RB (2014) Reforming male manners: Public insult and the decline of violence in London, 1660-1740, English Masculinities, 1660-1800 (pp. 133-150). 
  • Shoemaker R (2013) Representing the adversary criminal trial: Lawyers in the Old Bailey proceedings, 1770-1800, Crime, Courtrooms and the Public Sphere in Britain, 1700-1850 (pp. 71-92). View this article in WRRO
  • Shoemaker RB (2009) Print Culture and the Creation of Public Knowledge about Crime in Eighteenth-Century London In Knepper P, Doak J & Shapland J (Ed.) (pp. 1-21). Taylor and Francis 
  • Shoemaker, RB (2004) ‘Streets of Shame?  The Crowd and Public Punishments in London, 1700-1820’, in S. Devereaux and P. Griffiths, eds, Penal Practice and Culture, 1500-1900: Punishing the English (Palgrave), pp. 232-57

Book reviews

Conference proceedings papers

  • Booth C, Shoemaker R & Gaizauskas R (2022) A Language Modelling Approach to Quality Assessment of OCR’ed Historical Text. Proceedings of the 13th Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC 2022) (pp 5859-5864). Marseille, France, 20 June 2022 - 25 June 2022. 


  • Shoemaker ROBERT, Hitchcock T & Allwork LF (2018, December 11) 'Criminal Lives, 1780-1925: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts'. London Metropolitan Archives, London, UK. 

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