Course Description

This course is a thematic study of the history of crime and its policing and prosecution in the United States from the 1870s to the 1920s. The history of crime provides a perspective on changing ideas about what behavior was deemed illicit in different periods, about the scope, operation and limits of state power, about how social, economic and political structures shaped the actions of individuals, and about the lives of groups who do not appear in other historical sources.  You will use newspapers in the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America collection to explore the incidence, definition, and policing of offenses such as murder, assault, prostitution, rape, sodomy, theft, counterfeiting and forgery, and arson. To make sense of that evidence, we will examine the history of how newspapers reported crime, the development of criminal law and how the criminal justice system developed. Each student will choose a newspaper from a particular time and place, research each offense in that publication and the criminal law that applied for the class meetings, and for the major assignment develop a digital project that examines the reporting of one of those crimes in their chosen newspaper.

George Mason University, Fall 2022
PDF copy of syllabus

Prof. Stephen Robertson