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What’s the point of criminal justice history?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - 18:00 to 19:00
Berrill Lecture Theatre, Walton Hall, The Open University, MK7 6AA

As The Open University celebrates its 50th anniversary, Paul Lawrence, Asa Briggs Professor of History, will deliver his inaugural lecture on how a historical approach to criminal justice contributes to contemporary understandings of crime and justice.

He will look at, for example, whether we are more or less violent as a society than we were a century or two ago.

Attend in person 


Crime and its control are topics of perennial public interest and concern. The mechanisms of criminal justice have become increasing politicised over time, with successive governments keen to be seen as ‘tough on crime’. However, there is a tendency to see the societal issues thrown up by crime and its control as ‘new’, or at least distinctly modern. What, if anything, can criminal justice history (historical consideration of crime and its control in the past) bring to the present?  

Drawing on a fascinating range of historical examples from the 1750s to the later 20th century, Professor Lawrence will explore the different ways history can enhance contemporary thinking about crime and criminal justice.

An informed grasp of the past can help provide perspective in the present (demonstrating, for example, that things we might think of as new and modern, such as youth violence, are anything but).

Looking back over history allows us to identify the long-term trends and changes which have constructed our present. Historical thinking is also a prerequisite for social justice. It is only by understanding the ways in which the socially excluded have been disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system that the legacy of this treatment be unpicked and remedied in the present. 

Watch what Professor Lawrence has to say about his lecture in the trailer video below:

About Professor Paul Lawrence

Professor Paul Lawrence has taught and researched in the History Department at The Open University since 1998. He is currently the Head of History and holds the Asa Briggs Chair in History. His research interests include all aspects of criminal justice history from c.1750 to the present.

A particular focus of recent publications has been ‘historical criminology’ and theoretical reflection on the role of historical research in contemporary issues. He is the editor of the bi-lingual journal Crime, History & Societies/Crime, Histoire et Sociétés.

Read more about Professor Lawrence

Event Programme

Timings Item
17:30 - 18:00 Tea/coffee on arrival
18:05 - 18:45 Inaugural lecture: What's the point of criminal justice history?
18:45 - 19:00 Q & A
19:00 - 20:00 Drinks reception

Watch the webinar online

Please take the opportunity to have your questions answered by our speakers LIVE during the event:

Email your questions Use #OUtalks on Twitter

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