While for most people most of the time, each day was generally similar to the day before and the one to follow, exceptions did occur. The placid continuities of daily life could be thrown into turmoil. Personal disputes erupted into emotional confrontations and sometimes violence. So too did social, racial, ethnic, economic, or political conflicts, often on a much larger scale. In these cases, life’s ordinary routines could be upset in distressing and sometimes terribly threatening ways, not merely for a few individuals but for a vast number of people as well. Criminal activity not only affected the victim and perpetrator but also challenged the defined standards of socially acceptable behavior and thereby the sense of security that came with being able to assume the safety of one’s person and property. Meanwhile, law enforcement efforts affected a much wider range of the population, not only those involved in crimes but many entirely innocent. Large-scale catastrophes, perhaps, most thoroughly unsettled a community or region’s daily life. Such occurrences were, after all, not the product of flaws in human behavior but rather the result of utterly unpredictable and overwhelming forces of nature. Furthermore, they indiscriminately impacted everyone in their path.
Episodes of conflict and crime, not to mention natural catastrophes, provide distinctive punctuation to the normal routines of every age. However out of the ordinary they may be, they become the aspects of a period most widely remembered and deemed historic. Although they may be uncommon rather than typical experiences, they do possess great significance. They not only indicate the stresses and fears faced by the