I am now two months into my PhD research: I have given my first talk, spent a day in the archives, submitted a conference abstract, sent lots of emails and read many books and articles. Most importantly, I feel that I am beginning to get to grips with my topic, although I’m sure that will change again in the coming months and years! Tentatively, my PhD project aims to examine how changing policing strategies impacted on patterns of repeat offending; how did those responsible for policing the streets choose who to arrest and re-arrest, and how did this change between 1780 and 1850?
As well as reading the secondary material in preparation for writing my literature review, I have begun to think about the sources that I will be using for my research, and the first substantial chapter that I will produce. I am extremely fortunate to be working as part of the Digital Panopticon Project, since it provides access to a range of datasets concerning the history of crime and punishment. This is a collaborative project which brings together existing and new datasets to explore the impact of different types of punishments on the lives of 90,000 people sentenced at The Old Bailey between 1780 and 1875. Initially, I am seeking to collect and work on a group of individuals who were tried more than once at the Old Bailey between 1780 and 1850. Being part of this project enables me firstly to access this data, but also to be part of the process of digitisation by liaising with those responsible for the data linkage at the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Sheffield, and evaluating some of the initial links that they make to test out the process. I feel extremely privileged to be playing my own small part in this process. I am hopeful that I can begin to work on constructing a database from this information in the new year. I am aiming to produce an analysis of this data for a paper at the Digital Panopticon project conference in Tasmania in June!
For the policing aspect of my project, I have already spent a day in the London Metropolitan Archives, looking at the vast range of records detailing the activities of the watchmen and constables of the City of London. These are merely the tip of the iceberg; I will also be looking at the material for the Westminster parishes, and reading reports of police court trials in the British Newspapers collection.
On Wednesday, I gave a 3 minute presentation on my initial outline of my research at the Institute of Historical Research’s British History in the Long 18th Century Seminar, as part of their ‘Lightning Talks’ for PhD researchers. Not only was this a great opportunity to tentatively present my research ideas, but the questions from eminent scholars there have suggested new directions and important considerations for my research. It was also fascinating to hear the variety of research that fellow PhD students are currently undertaking.
I have also been busy teaching first year undergraduate students; as an Associate Tutor, I lead seminars once a week and mark essays for a group of students on a module about Early Modern Europe. This has been very hard work, but also extremely rewarding when a seminar goes well, and I feel that the students are engaging with the topic. In the new year, I will be leading an outreach session for Sixth Form students considering applying to the University of Sheffield for History, which I am very much looking forward to. This session will be based around the Digital Panopticon project, and I will be engaging the students with tracing criminal lives, by comparing and contrasting those who were imprisoned and those who were transported, as well as exploring some of the challenges of linking records about individual criminals.
Overall, it has been a very busy, but also very exciting couple of months. I hope to continue to take all the opportunities offered to me as a PhD researcher, both in terms of immersing myself in fascinating research, and in terms of undertaking other activities to inspire and encourage those interested in history.