Crime, Gender, and Sexuality in Criminal Prosecutions

By Louis A. Knafla | Go to book overview

Book Review Essay: New Directions in the History of Crime and the Law in Early Modern England

Malcolm Gaskill

Louis A. Knafla, ed., Kent at Law 1602: The County Jurisdiction: Assizes and Sessions of the Peace (London, HMSO, 1994). xl 410 pp. £50.00.

J. S. Cockburn, ed., Calendar of Assize Records: Kent Indictments, Charles I (London, HMSO, 1995). viii 753 pp. £95.00.

In the same way that social history has come a long way since G. M. Trevelyan defined it as “the history of a people with the politics left out,” so too the history of crime and criminal justice has progressed since the mid-1970s, when Sir Geoffrey Elton, somewhat casually, imposed a series of limitations upon its potential scope and significance. 1 Indeed, there are strong parallels between the development of the two fields. Between the 1930s and 1950s, social history established for itself an identity distinct from its mainstream political counterpart (albeit one characterized by nostalgia and antiquarianism); then, in the 1960s, its reincarnation as the “new social history” helped to politicize its central concerns; and finally, in a recent, more self-confident phase, it has been repositioned into a wider interpretative context. In other words, goals and perspectives beyond what Trevelyan ever could have imagined in the 1940s have put the politics back in, and many would now argue that the distinction between social and political history is essentially arbitrary. 2 Criminal justice history has followed a similar path, starting life as a cabinet of curiosities, thereafter re-born with a stronger political and administrative bearing from the union of legal history and social history between the late 1960s and mid-1970s. 3 By the mid-1980s, signs were emerging that criminal justice history had gained sufficient stature not just for the statistics of criminality to be linked to politics and society via the institutions and offices that created them, but for the whole field to be more fully integrated into the wider historical

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