Examination of a Witch painting by Thompkins H. Matteson, 1853.

About Our SpecialisationBack to Top icon.

The Law in Society research specialisation brings together colleagues with an interest in law and legal cultures across chronological and geographical contexts, from the late Roman empire, over the ninth century Frankish world and eighteenth-century London, to the gulags and detention centres of Soviet Russia. We share an interest in the relation between ideals, laws, institutions and practices – in law as a discourse embedded in power structures as well as more abstract aspects of the law as both a technical system and discipline. Our expertise includes civil and criminal law; the state, repression and detention; printed representations of the law; and the relationship of legal structures to colonisation. We are particularly interested in:

Interpretation and Discretion - How is the law to be interpreted when applied to specific situations? What is the role of discretion in determining how law is applied in practice? What is the relation of discretion and social class/political authority, and how has this changed over time?

Narrative and Fictions - How do people present themselves before the law? What is the relation between narratives produced for the legal context and the representation of moral norms elsewhere in society, for example in crime literature?

Legal Plurality and Authority - How are situations in which there are competing legal systems and sets of legal norms negotiated? How important are contradictions between these systems in creating and policing different communities in society? What are the differences between laws and other kinds of rules produced by certain groups?

Markets and Ethics - How are market rules and norms enforced? How does the law influence market behaviour? Was this different in preindustrial society? To what extent are systems of credit and interpersonal exchange dependent upon the law? What is the relation of class and law?

Law and Justice - What is the relation between law and ethics? How has this relation changed over time and why? What are the limits of law in relation to authority? What is the role of legal professionals in mediating between popular and legal culture?

Digitization and Legal Records - How does digitisation change the way that legal records can be used? What potential is there for linking legal records to other digitised series (e.g. social welfare and tax records)? How should a digitised resource be designed to exploit the potential of document to the full?

Social Change and the Law - How do new technologies such as railways influence the role of law in society? How do changing customs, such as the rise of consumerism, bring the law to mediate social relations in new ways? How do evolving social expectations affect the law, for example, in the case of divorce or gay marriage?

Legal Transfers - Can laws cross political borders? Do different cultures make this impossible or unlikely? To what extent is law transformed in the process?


Researchers Back to Top icon.



Crime and criminal justice and its representation in the print culture of eighteenth-century London.

The influence of social and cultural change on legal norms and legal practice in late antiquity, in particular pertaining to the family and to crime.
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Dr Julia Moses
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Social and technological change and the law, both public and private, especially pertaining to accidents, welfare and the family; administrative law, especially linked to the growth of bureaucracy in modern Europe.

Photo of Dr Charles West.
Dr Charles West
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Dispute settlement in early medieval Europe, the emergence of professional law, and the practical effects of legal texts, genuine and forged?


Postgraduates (recent and current)

Richard Ward
Richard has just completed a PhD on print culture and responses to crime in mid 18th century London.
Hannah Probert
Hannah is writing a dissertation on fatherhood between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, in particular on the discrepancies between legal expectations of fatherhood and social practices.


Links Back to Top icon.

The Department of History, through the work of Professor Robert Shoemaker and his collaborators, also hosts two major digital research projects of particular interest to scholars of law and legal culture.

Old Bailey Proceedings Online

The multi-award winning Old Bailey Proceedings makes available a fully searchable, digitised collection of all surviving editions of the proceedings of London's most important criminal court from 1674 to 1913, and of the Ordinary of Newgate's Accounts between 1676 and 1772. The website provides access to the details of over 197,000 trials and biographical information for approximately 2,500 men and women executed at Tyburn.

London Lives, 1690-1800: Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis

Includes 39 individual document types from fourteen archives, including pre-trial documents, coroners records, and and the records of Bridewell, the house of correction for the City of London, offering a fully searchable edition of 240,000 manuscripts giving access to 3.35 million names.

The Centre for Peace History

This Centre aims to advance our understanding of the historically contingent ways in which people have thought about and, quite literally, made peace. The Centre is a unique institution, not only in the UK, but also in Europe and the wider world. It is devoted to the inter-disciplinary study of practices, representations and reflections of peace and peaceful conflict resolution.

Centre for Criminological Research

The Centre for Criminological Research is one of only four centres of excellence in the UK and over the last thirty years it has provided an important focal point for university researchers in the history all aspects of criminology and criminal justice.

The European Legal Development Project

This project collates information from a research study on the development of law in a number of European countries. The purpose of the project is to make these findings widely available, and demonstrate how the law develops and how it can have an impact on everyday lives.