Professor Clive Emsley’s obituary

Historian with an international reputation as the foremost scholar of police history
By Prof. Paul Lawrence, reprinted from The Guardian

Almost everything we know about the development of policing in Britain and beyond can be attributed to the curiosity and intellectual endeavour of Clive Emsley, who has died aged 76. Through a prodigious tally of publications, Clive defined and laid claim to the field of police history, challenging longstanding myths and creating an international network of scholars in the process.

As well as writing standard historical works such as Policing and Its Context (1983), Crime and Society (1987) and The English Police (1991), Clive subjected all aspects of the development of policing to his forensic gaze. His research documented the arduous daily lives of police constables (expected initially to patrol without stopping at a steady three miles an hour, while forbidden from talking to members of the public) and the gradual professionalisation of their work. But he was equally at home analysing the high politics of police control, unearthing the political chicanery that led to the inception of the Metropolitan police and the various scandals leading to reforms such as the Police Act (1964)

At times he adopted a broad statistical view (providing one of the first robust discussions of the validity of police statistics) but he was equally adept at using a biographical approach to illuminate wider themes. His latest book, A Police Officer and a Gentleman (2018), used the little-known career of Chief Constable Michael Wilcox to demonstrate the important role British police officers played in the reconstruction of Europe after the second world war.

Clive always worked internationally, his linguistic ability enabling insights barred to others. In comparative histories such as Gendarmes and the State (1999) and Crime, Police and Penal Policy: European Experiences 1750-1940 (2007), the comfortable myth that British policing ‚Äď local, unarmed and ‚Äúby consent‚ÄĚ ‚Äď could be smugly contrasted with a more centralised, political and armed police in Europe, was firmly but politely debunked. Through painstaking archival research, Clive demonstrated that the British police had always been armed if necessary and undertook ‚Äúpolitical policing‚ÄĚ, and that European systems of policing were not that different.

Later in his career he took on other myths, investigating crime and policing in military contexts. Soldier, Sailor, Beggarman, Thief (2013) was the first serious history of criminal offending by members of the British armed forces in the 20th century. Its unflinching gaze demonstrated the involvement of soldiers in black-market racketeering, sexual violence and homicide, while also concluding that, as in wider society, such actions were perpetrated by a small and unrepresentative minority.

Such pioneering research into policing is perhaps unsurprising given Clive’s background. Born in Dulwich, London, he was the son of Evelyn (nee Ing) and Ernie Emsley. His father had worked as a police constable in south-east London before joining the RAF in 1942. Ernie’s first operational flight ended in his death, three months before Clive was born.

The Met looks after its own, however, and Evelyn received a pension and an allowance from the Met orphan fund to assist with Clive‚Äôs upbringing. He received annual Christmas boxes from ‚ÄúP‚ÄĚ Division and regular visits from a local inspector to ensure he was thriving at school. This he did, attending Alleyn‚Äôs school in Dulwich. There he developed a love of acting, joining the National Youth Theatre. Despite performing alongside Helen Mirren in a production of Antony and Cleopatra (1965) and offers of professional acting work, Clive chose academic life.

Clive Emsley receiving an honorary doctorate at Edge Hill University, 2016
Clive Emsley receiving an honorary doctorate at Edge Hill University, 2016. Photograph: Edge Hill University

Following a degree in history at York University, and research for a master’s at Peterhouse, Cambridge (entitled Public Order in England, 1790-1801), in 1970 he joined the Open University at its inception, first as lecturer and then professor of history, staying until his retirement in 2009. There he was instrumental in the development of an entirely new method of teaching history, eschewing face-to-face lectures and tutorials in favour of written course books and BBC broadcasts.

Over 50 years, Clive built an international reputation as the foremost scholar of police history and was a supportive mentor to those who followed in his footsteps. He travelled widely, and his erudition and warmth helped to link archivists, budding historians, curators and police officers. A former president of the International Association for the History of Crime and Criminal Justice, he also co-founded the bilingual journal Crime, History & Societies in 1997.

His house in Bedford, where he lived with his wife, Jenny (nee Noble, whom he married in 1970), was a home from home for scholars from around the world. Alongside academic life, engagement with general audiences formed a significant part of Clive’s career, with books such as Hard Men: Violence in England since 1750 (2005) and The Great British Bobby (2009). He worked with the Police History Society and police museums, surveying police archives and lobbying for their preservation. He lectured for Historical Association branches, engaged with practitioners as well as students, peers of the realm as well as his peers, in the service of his goal to show that an understanding of the history of crime and criminal justice is both useful in the present and a fascinating end in itself.

He is survived by Jenny and by their children, Mark and Kathryn.

‚ÄĘ Clive Emsley, historian, born 4 August 1944; died 5 October 2020

Karl Hack’s article in War in History

Professor Karl Hack has published ‚ÄėDevils that suck the blood of the Malayan People‚Äô: The Case for Post-Revisionist Analysis of Counter-insurgency Violence’ in War in History. The article addresses the ‚Äėrevisionist‚Äô case that post-war Western counter-insurgency deployed widespread, exemplary violence in order to discipline and intimidate populations. It does this by using the Malayan Emergency of 1948‚Äď60 as a case study in extreme counter-insurgency ‚Äėviolence‚Äô, defined as high to lethal levels of physical force against non-combatants‚Äô (civilians, detainees, prisoners, and corpses). It confirms high levels of such violence, from sporadic shooting of civilians to the killing of 24 unarmed workers at Batang Kali. Yet it also demonstrates that there were more varieties of and nuances in extreme force than is sometimes realized, for instance with multiple and very different forms of mass population displacement. It also concentrates more effort on explaining how such violence came about, and shows a marked trend over time towards greatly improved targeting, and towards methods that did not cause direct bodily harm. This case study therefore suggests the need for a ‚Äėpost-revisionist‚Äô form of counter-insurgency analysis: one that can take into account the lifecycles of multiple types of violence, and of violence-limitation, and emphasize explanation for extreme violence over its mere description. Such a post-revisionist analysis need not necessarily imply that there was more, or less, violence than suggested by previous accounts. Instead, it requires a more nuanced and contextualized account, clearly differentiated by technique, place, and period.

Luc-Andre Brunet’s article in International History Review

Dr. Luc-Andre Brunet, Lecturer in 20th European History, has published ‘Unhelpful Fixer? Canada, the Euromissile Crisis, and Pierre Trudeau’s Peace Initiative, 1983-1984‘ in the International History Review. This article provides the most rigorous international history to date of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s 1983 peace initiative, one of Canada’s major foreign policy ventures of the Cold War, examining both Trudeau’s motives and the reception of his initiative among Canada’s allies. Drawing on newly declassified sources in Canada, it uncovers the two-track strategy behind this initiative, aiming to mobilise Western European leaders to exert pressure on the Reagan Administration on the one hand, while quietly urging European allies to call for a review of NATO strategy on the other. Based on previously unavailable archival materials from seven different countries, this article also reveals how the Canadian initiative was received by the world leaders Trudeau sought to win over. It reassesses the Canadian initiative, revealing that it borrowed heavily from existing proposals from other countries, and that NATO leaders viewed the initiative as a mere electoral ploy to help Trudeau win re-election rather than a serious project to ease East‚ÄďWest tensions. This article concludes that with this initiative Canada was not in fact playing the role of a ‚Äėhelpful fixer‚Äô and that the initiative constituted part of a wider and understudied trend in government responses to the ‚ÄėSecond Cold War‚Äô.


Richard Marsden’s article in History Compass

Dr. Richard Marsden, Lecturer in History and Staff Tutor, has published “Medievalism: new discipline or scholarly no-man’s land?” in History Compass. The term ‚Äúmedievalism‚ÄĚ refers to how people have, since the 15th century, conceptualised the thousand years of history preceding that date. The study of medievalism is therefore not about the Middle Ages per se, but rather the ways in which the medieval period has been imagined in the centuries since it ended. Yet the field’s origins date from as recently as the 1970s. Medievalism Studies is thus still finding its feet and must consequently deal with some existential questions about its scope and remit, its methodological underpinnings, its implications for how history is periodised, and its relationship with more established disciplines. It also faces criticisms of Anglo‚Äźcentricism as well as hostility from some historians thanks to the doubts its practitioners raise over established delineations between scholarly and creative depictions of the medieval period. Nonetheless, this new field offers a much‚Äźneeded challenge to the calcified disciplinary boundaries that shape academia today.

Death of Prof. Colin Russell

We mourn the passing of Colin Russell, Professor of History of Science and Technology, who died on the 16th May. Colin started work at the Open University in 1970 and played a key role in creating the Department of the History of Science and Technology. He became Professor in 1982 and retired in 1993, continuing as Emeritus Professor. A Service of Thanksgiving will take place at noon on Thursday, 30 May at Bunyan Meeting, Mill Street, Bedford. Professor Russell will be sadly missed by his former colleagues.


News Archive

See below for past news items.


Conference: Religion as Agent of Change Ole Grell has been invited to chair the Reformation session at the Religion as Agent of Change international conference at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, (25-26 August 2011).

Workshop: ‘Bodies for Knowledge: Perspectives on Anatomy, 1600-1900’, The Open University in London, 20 June 2011 The history of anatomy is a blossoming area of research, stimulating the interactions between scholars with different approaches, from medical to social historians and from anthropologists to art historians. Recent studies have called into question received accounts of a disciplinary continuity, stressing fundamental changes in anatomical practice and knowledge. This makes all the more important to recapture the historical specificity of such key activities as the procurement of bodies, the production of visual knowledge and the management of intellectual controversies. Bringing together scholars with a wide range of expertise, this workshop takes stock of recent developments in the field and charts future avenues of investigation.¬†The programme is available online.

Seminar: ‚ÄėCriminal Book History‚Äô Friday 18 February 2011 This themed seminar explores the links between histories of crime and the history of print in the nineteenth century. Crime and its punishment has long been a topic which has attracted readers and filled the coffers of publishers. However, from the turn of the nineteenth century, developments in printing technology, the emergence of cheap publications and rising literacy levels meant that interactions between crime and print culture flourished. The four papers at this seminar will explore the ways in which crime shaped forms of writing, publishing, print distribution and reading. Follow this link fordetails of the papers and a registration form.

Seminar: Reassembling the Collection: Indigenous Agency and Ethnographic Objects Rodney Harrison is co-chairing an Advanced Seminar ‘Reassembling the Collection: Indigenous Agency and Ethnographic Objects’ at the School for Advanced Reseach in Santa Fe from September 26-39.¬†More information is available online. 30 September 2010

Public Lecture: The significance of the Reformation for medicine and natural philosophy Ole Grell has been invited to give a public lecture at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany on 2 November 2010 on ‚ÄėThe significance of the Reformation for medicine and natural philosophy‚Äô. The lecture is part of a 4-day conference: The effects of the Reformation on science and education. 30 September 2010

Seminar: Biographical Methods Seminar Thursday 30th September 2010 12.30 – 1.30 in Library Seminar Room 1 Dr Rebecca Jones ‘When I get older’: Imagining bi futures Gerontologists have noted for many years that people find it hard to imagine themselves growing old, characterising this failure of imagination as both arising from and contributing toward ageism and the ill-treatment of older people. To the extent that people are able to imagine their own ageing, they often draw on older people they know, especially family members, as role models. They also draw on cultural resources around them, such as films, books and other media.¬†Further details from the Biographical Methodologies website. 20 September 2010

Seminar: Work in Progress’ at the International Centre¬† for the History of Crime, Policing and Justice, 21 July 2010 Meeting Rooms 1, 2 and 3, Wilson A, Walton Hall This informal day seminar will provide an opportunity for several members of the centre to present research they are currently pursuing in the area of crime and justice and to receive feedback.¬†¬†A detailed programme can be found online. 13 July 2010

Workshop: Healing sites, public health and medical therapies: research in the history of medicine at the Open University To promote exchange and foster collaboration on medical history across the University, a workshop on Healing sites, public health and medical therapies: research in the history of medicine at the OU will be held at the The Open University in London on 12 July 2010. Follow the link for the programme. 28 May 2010

Conference: Ethnicity Crime and Justice; Historical and Contemporary perspectives, 8-9 June 2010 This two day conference on ‚ÄėEthnicity Crime and Justice; Historical and Contemporary perspectives‚Äô aims to bring historians and criminologists together around common themes. The conference partly comes out of a recent ESRC-funded research project on ethnicity, crime and justice in England in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and the desire of Peter King and John Carter Wood, who are writing a book out of this research, to bring together historians and criminologists working in this field. Speakers include: Coretta Phillips, Marty Wiener, Paul Iganski, and Rene Levy.Further information including contact details, the conference programme and registration form is available from the ICCCR website. 13 May 2010

Conference: Shaping the Heritage Landscape: Perspectives from East and southern Africa Dr Lotte Hughes will co-host a workshop on ‚ÄėShaping the Heritage Landscape: Perspectives from East and southern Africa‚Äô on 5 and 6 May 2010 at the The British Institute in Eastern Africa, Nairobi. This workshop will focus on issues around heritage, memory, identity, culture and peace making in these two regions, drawing upon new research.¬†Further information and abstracts are available online. 6 April 2010

Conference: Policing, Media and Civil Liberties in interwar Britain, 26 February 2010 The next conference in the series run by the History of Crime, Policing and Justice group (in conjunction with the International Centre for Comparative Criminological Research) will be ‚ÄúPolicing, Media and Civil Liberties in interwar Britain‚ÄĚ held at the Open University on 26th February, 2010. The¬†conference programme¬†is available online (PDF, 55 KB). 27 January 2010

Conference on Homicide, 4th December 2009 As part of the regular series of conferences put on by the History of Crime, Policing and Justice group (in conjunction with the International Centre for Comparative Criminological Research) this day conference aims to bring together major historians and Criminologists working on homicide. The conference programme is available online (PDF, 136 KB).



Talk: James Moore lectures in S√£o Paulo and Beijing James Moore will give the plenary address, History and Philosophy of Biology Meeting 2010, Brazilian Association of Philosophy and History of Biology (ABFHiB), University of S√£o Paulo (Brazil), 11-13 August. He has also been invited to present a public lecture ‚ÄėDarwin in Communication‚Äô at Beijing University in August. 30 January 2010

Talk: Professor Jim Moore on ‚ÄėPhases of Darwin biography‚Äô One of a series hosted by the¬†The Biographical Methodologies Group, The Open University, 27th May, 2pm in Meeting Rooms 1, 2, and 3 Wilson A Building. The talk reviews how responsibility for shaping Darwin‚Äôs image and reputation shifted from Darwin, to his family, to ‚Äėscientists‚Äô, to the ‚ÄėDarwin Industry‚Äô and finally to social and intellectual historians. It concludes with a few words about the way that Darwin‚Äôs science-history is written today. Jim Moore is Professor of the History of Science at the Open University. He has published extensively on Darwin and Victorian lives. His and Adrian Desmond‚Äôs best-selling¬†Darwin(1991) won many prizes and has been widely translated. Their Darwin‚Äôs¬†Sacred Cause. Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins, was hailed by London Review of Books as the Darwin bicentenary‚Äôs ‚Äėmost substantial historical contribution.‚Äô 29 April 2010

Talk: Anne Laurence on Women making money Anne Laurence is giving a public lecture at the University of Plymouth on 9 March 2010 on ‚ÄúWomen making money: women and the stockmarket from the South Sea Bubble.‚ÄĚ



Prize: Sandip Hazareesingh awarded David Berry Prize Sandip Hazareesingh¬† has been awarded the 2009 David Berry prize for his article ‘Interconnected synchronicities: the production of Glasgow and Bombay as modern global ports c. 1850-1880’,¬†Journal of Global History, vol. 1, part 4 (spring 2009). The prize is awarded annually by the Royal Historical Society for the best published scholarly article on a subject dealing with Scottish history.

Award: Saving Britain’s Past wins BUFVC Learning on Screen Award The series Saving Britain’s Past, which forms part of the course materials for AD281Understanding Global Heritage, has won the Special Jury Award at the British Universities Film and Video Council 2010 Learning on Screen Awards. The award was announced at the Learning on Screen Conference held at the Open University on the 27th April, 2010. The series first screened on BBC2 over the summer of 2009, and Rodney Harrison and Susie West, both Lecturers in Heritage Studies in the Faculty of Arts, acted as academic consultants on the series.

¬†Award: ESRC grant award: Exploring UK policing practices The Economic and Social Research Council has awarded ¬£98,000 to Clive Emsley and Georgie Sinclair for a 14-month project called “Exploring UK policing practices as a blueprint for democratic police reform: the overseas deployment of UK Police Officers, 1989 -2009”. This oral history project will involve interviewing British police officers who have been involved in missions abroad designed to encourage the adoption and development of community policing. It will also involve a user workshop which will bring together researchers, research subjects, practitioners, policy-makers, and other stakeholders. It forms part of a broader project on global policing which is taking shape in the European Centre for the Study of Policing.

ESRC award for project on Ethnicity, crime and justice in England 1700-1825 Pete King has just been granted an ESRC award for a project on Ethnicity, crime and justice in England 1700-1825. This project will explore the degree to which ethnic minorities, and especially the black and Irish inhabitants of the metropolis were differentiated against by the criminal justice system.

Research Funding Success Professor Pete King and Dr John Carter Wood have been awarded ¬£98,440 by the AHRC for an 18 month project titled: Police, Press, public and the¬†‚ÄėCelebrity Female Victim‚Äô in Britain, 1926-1930.


New publication by postgraduate student A recent postgraduate student in the History department has recently had part of her thesis published as: Janet Clark, ‚ÄėSincere and Reasonable Men? The Origins of the National Council for Civil Liberties‚Äô,¬†Twentieth Century British History¬†2009 20: 513-537

The Colonial City and the Challenge of Modernity, Urban Hegemonies and Civic Contestations in Bombay (1900 ‚Äď 1925) Sandip Hazareesingh has recently published this book as part of the series ‚ÄėNew Perspectives in South Asian History‚Äô, from Orient Longman. This is an original story about the coming of ‚Äėmodernity‚Äô in Bombay city in the early twentieth century. In this account, Sandip Hazareesingh shows how this most global of forces had complex and contradictory meanings in the local urban setting of colonial Bombay. It offers fresh and stimulating insights into the multi-layered relationships between modernity, colonialism, and the production of urban space.Further details are available online.

Paperback edition of Colonial Armies in South East Asia Karl Hack and Tobias Rettig,¬†Colonial Armies in South East Asia, first published in hardback by Routledge in 2006, came out in paperback in summer 2008. A review in the¬†Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History¬†stated that it ‚Äėopens up substantial new ground in Southeast Asian studies and world history‚Äô.

The Politics of Vaccination In February 2008 Deborah Brunton’s monograph The Politics of Vaccination: Practice and Policy in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland 1800-1874 is published by Rochester University Press in their prestigious series Studies in Medical History.

New publication: paperback edition ofDarwin’s Sacred Cause The paperback edition of Darwin’s Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Originsby James A. Moore and Adrian Desmond has been issued by Penguin books. Further details are available online.

New publication: War Planning 1914 Annika Mombauer has contributed a chapter on German War Planning to a new book entitledWar Planning 1914, edited by Richard F. Hamilton, Ohio State University, and Holger H. Herwig, University of Calgary, published by Cambridge University Press in January 2010. This tightly focused collection of essays by international experts in military history reassesses the war plans of 1914 in a broad diplomatic, military, and political setting for the first time in three decades. Collectively and comparatively, the essays in this volume place contingency war planning before 1914 in the different contexts and challenges each state faced as well as into a broad European paradigm.Further details are available online.

Other News

Courses: Video introductions to new Arts courses You can now watch brief introductions to our new courses on YouTube. These include the Level 2 course Understanding Global Heritage(AD281) by Dr Rodney Harrison and an introduction to the new MA in History by Professor Ian Donnachie. Both of these courses will be presented for the first time in October 2009.

Teaching and Learning History from Police Archives In August 2008 the ICCCR launched its first teaching packages based on material from the Police Archive held at the OU. The materials, aimed at Key stage 3 and sixth-form students explore the role of the police during the Second World War and Police and Citzenship. The preparation of these materials was funded by the AHRC and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Follow this link to see the materials online.