Saturday 15 December 2018

Research in Progress: Criminal Characters

Investigating the lives of historical offenders in Australia

#HCNet is eager to share information on current research-in-progress that might interest members, celebrating our colleagues' achievements and keeping up-to-date with current work and future directions of Historical Criminology. 

The Criminal Characters project started in 2018 and continues through to 2022 supported by a grant from the University of Technology Sydney. #HCNet members may recall Tweets and emails circulating from Principal Investigator and Chancellors Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Alana Piper, when she sent out a call earlier this year for survey participants.

Alana explains:
'Crime has been central in shaping the history and society of Australia, and historical criminal figures are an ongoing source of fascination to the Australian public. The Criminal Characters project is examining who criminals were, and who they have been imagined to be, in order to deconstruct both historical and contemporary understandings of ‘the criminal’ as a form of social identity. 

This is being achieved by creating an online database of biographic and criminal career information for offenders who entered Victoria’s prison system from the 1850s to 1940s, utilising crowdsourcing to transcribe the detailed life histories kept in Victoria’s prison registers. The prison records that public volunteers are transcribing on the Criminal Characters website captures demographic information such as age, occupation, nationality and marital status, the prisoner’s convictions across time, and information about their appearance, family, misbehaviour inside prison and any transfers they had to other types of institutions. 

How do the lives revealed in such records challenge public conceptions of the sorts of characters that end up in the criminal justice system? And how can such crowdsourcing projects contribute to a greater literacy in historical criminology among the general public?'

Visit for more information including how to participate in transcription. The site includes an excellent Resources page for any one curious about the history of crime in Australian society and culture, including a guide to understanding Australian crime records. 

What are you working on? Please email Alexa Neale via our Members page or Tweet using the hashtag #HCNet.

A composite image depicting four different black and white prisoner photographs arranged in a 2 by 2 square, all head and shoulders, likely different periods. The subjects are possibly two men and two women of diverse ethnic backgrounds, the two on the left, a man and a woman, are looking away from the camera, the two on the right are looking directly into it.
Image copyright Alana Piper and


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