HIST295-23S1 (C) Semester One 2023

Crime, Criminology and Policing in Modern Europe since 1750

15 points

Start Date: Monday, 20 February 2023
End Date: Sunday, 25 June 2023
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 5 March 2023
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Sunday, 14 May 2023


Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, this course traces the development of crime, criminology and policing in modern Europe. Paying particular attention to the rise of competing biological and sociological models of criminality and the birth of forensics, the course examines the social, political and professional implications of attempting to put the investigation, understanding, and punishment of crime on a scientific footing. Topics covered will include: crime and insanity, Lombroso and the born criminal, the professionalisation of policing, and the development of fingerprinting and crime scene analysis.

Crime and criminality in the early modern period were often equated with sin and temptation and the punishment of “the criminal as sinner”, which frequently took physical form, was both public and brutal. In contrast, during the Enlightenment criminals were increasingly seen as rational individuals capable of self-interested calculation and penal policy was reformed to reflect this belief. The public and violent retribution that society had exacted upon the criminal’s body in the early modern period was thus slowly replaced by incarceration in purpose-built prisons where punishment was increasingly accompanied by attempts at reform and rehabilitation. While many historians, therefore, have understood the history of crime, criminology and policing in the modern era as a story of progress, rationality and humanitarianism, the theories of the French philosopher and cultural historian Michel Foucault have tended to problematise this grand narrative. Foucault has described modern approaches to crime and punishment as examples of disciplinary modes of power, which regulate behaviour, movement and thought by working on the mind rather than the body. These modes of power, which according to Foucault were introduced for a range of pragmatic rather than humanitarian reasons, operated during the 19th century in modern institutions such as prisons, where they were sustained by the scientific discourse of criminologists, doctors and psychiatrists. The insights offered by Foucault, whether embraced or rejected by individual historians, have helped shape historiographical debate about crime, criminology and policing for the last thirty five years.
Foregrounding these historiographical arguments, this course begins in the mid 18th century by considering Enlightenment approaches to crime, punishment and policing before examining early attempts to put understandings of criminality and penal policy on a scientific footing. The course then focuses on the emergence of both biological and sociological models of criminality during the 19th and early 20th centuries, noting their implications for crime prevention and penal policy in a wide-range of European contexts. In order to complement and contextualise this examination of the history of criminology, the course also traces the development of the forensic sciences and the professionalization of policing in modern Europe. Using the tool of historical analogy, the course concludes by asking students to consider the implications of the contemporary over-estimation of the forensic sciences (the so-called CSI-effect) and recent efforts to find criminality or violence in both brain chemistry and the genes.

Learning Outcomes

  • HIST295 aims to:
  • Help students develop a critical understanding of the historical development of criminology, forensics and policing in modern Europe and a broad knowledge of the differing approaches to crime, criminality and policing that emerged between the mid-18th and mid 20th centuries in Europe;
  • Introduce students to the historiographical debates in the field, in particular, those which have been sparked by Foucault’s interpretation of crime and its punishment.
  • Provide opportunities for students to develop their skills in primary source analysis, and research.

    Upon successful completion of HIST295, students will be able to:
  • Provide original insights into the relationship between:
    o a) the development of criminology, forensics and policing in modern Europe and their political, social and cultural contexts
    o b) different understandings of crime in modern Europe and their political, social and cultural contexts
  • Critically review the historiographical debates in the field, in particular, those which have been sparked by Foucault’s interpretation of crime and its punishment.
  • Demonstrate the ability to use and critically review primary/archival sources.
  • Present research findings to both expert and non-expert audiences.
    • University Graduate Attributes

      This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attributes specified below:

      Critically competent in a core academic discipline of their award

      Students know and can critically evaluate and, where applicable, apply this knowledge to topics/issues within their majoring subject.


Any 15 points at 100 level in HIST or CLAS120, or
any 60 points at 100 level from the Schedule V of the BA, or
60 points at 100 level from Schedules C or E of the BCJ.


Course Coordinator

Heather Wolffram


Refer to Learn for changed assessment information.

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $821.00

International fee $3,750.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.

Minimum enrolments

This course will not be offered if fewer than 20 people apply to enrol.

For further information see Humanities .

All HIST295 Occurrences

  • HIST295-23S1 (C) Semester One 2023