Tag Archives: project-event

Project Conference, September 2017: Registration is Open!

To mark completion of the four year AHRC funded project ‘The Digital Panopticon: The Global Impact of London Punishments’ we are hosting a three day conference. Join us at Liverpool’s St George’s Hall for three days of papers, round-tables, and events on the topic of crime and Punishment in Britain and Australia 1780-1925.

Date: Wednesday 13th- Friday 15th September                          ‌

Venue: St Georges Hall, Liverpool‌

For more information on how to register and the conference programme please see the conference website.

CFP: Digital Panopticon Conference

Our conference to mark the completion of the Digital Panopticon project will be held on 13-15 September 2017, St George’s Hall, Liverpool, UK.

We invite papers on any aspect of crime and punishment in Britain and its penal colonies between 1780 and 1925. We also welcome papers which include a comparative dimension with other times and places; papers on digital history, life-histories of prisoners and convicts. There will be dedicated space at the conference for those wishing to display research posters.

Please send an abstract of 200 words (for papers lasting no longer than 20 minutes), or panel proposals (3-5 speakers) by no later than 31st March 2017 to Lucy Williams (lwill@Liverpool.ac.uk) or Barry Godfrey (barry.godfrey@Liverpool.ac.uk).

If you’d like to display a poster, please email if possible by the same deadline explaining the topic of your poster in 100 words or so.

Download CFP Poster (pdf)

Programme for Workshop on 3D and the History of Crime

The History of Crime and the Courts in Three Dimensions

Tuesday 20th October, Sussex Humanities Lab, Silverstone Building, University of Sussex, Brighton, BN1 9SH. Campus Map

Registration: Please register via the Eventbrite page


9:00: Coffee
9:30: Linda Mulcahy (LSE), and Emma Rowden (Sydney), Unicorns and Urinals: Why do modern courts look the way they do?
10:15: Valeria Vitale (King’s London), An Ontology for 3D Visualization in Cultural Heritage
11:00: – Coffee
11:20: Tim Hitchcock, Re-imagining the Voice of the Defendant at the Old Bailey.
11:50: Nick Webb (Liverpool), Analysing historic works of architecture using digital techniques.
12:30-1:20: Lunch.


Professor Linda Mulcahy (LSE), and Dr Emma Rowden (UTS Sydney): Unicorns and Urinals: Why do modern courts look the way they do?

In this paper we will explore the history of ideas about court design and why it is that contemporary English courts look the way they do. Drawing on the findings of a Leverhulme grant we will explore the principles and claims underpinning debate about how the different actors in the trial are positioned in the courtroom. In particular we are keen to identify the conditions of possibility that have made the form and content of the various centralised design guides produced since 1970 legitimate. We argue that in addition to concerns about how design facilitates due process the history of court design has been progressively fuelled by fears about lay users of the justice system.

Valeria Vitale (King’s College, London): An Ontology for 3D Visualization in Cultural Heritage

The use of 3D computer graphics and modelling techniques in the study of the ancient world has been mainly limited to the display of traditional research. Often, their value has been assessed merely on aesthetic quality. Behind every scholarly 3D visualisation is a thorough study of excavation records, iconographic documentation, literary sources, artistic canons. However, this research is not always detectable in the final outcome, and 3D visualisations do not seem able to meet the standards of scientific method (reproducibility) and academic publishing (references and peer-review)… More specifically, an ontology for 3D visualisation in cultural heritage could, in the first place, define and describe the components of the 3D model and their relationships. This would help rebuilding data and metadata if the visual component was not readable anymore, enhancing accessibility, sustainability and longevity of the information. Through a dedicated ontology, a researcher could also assess the degree of speculation involved in the creation of each 3D element and its relationship with sources and referents, thus presenting 3D visualisation as a scientific hypothesis and not an «exact reconstruction».

Tim Hitchcock (University of Sussex): Re-imagining the Voice of the Defendant at the Old Bailey

When the sessions house at the Old Bailey was rebuilt in the 1770s, a traditional open courtroom was transformed in to a fully enclosed space, with a new and complex internal layout. The relative positions of the judge, jury, defendants and witnesses where substantially reconfigured. This presentation represents a preliminary attempt to capture the significance of that transition in sound: to explore how the different actors in the legal drama of a trial heard, both their own voice, and that of other participants. By modelling the location of different speakers in the courtroom both before and after the rebuilding, and acknowledging the very different sense of space encountered in a room open to the elements, to one enclosed by four walls, this paper seeks to help recapture the eighteenth century experience of being tried and sentenced at the Old Bailey.

Nick Webb (University of Liverpool, School of Architecture): Analysing historic works of architecture using digital techniques

This presentation will discuss the use of digital techniques to analyse significant works of architecture, whether they exist, are destroyed or are not built at all. A methodology is introduced for future research employing digital tools in this context. Examples will show how the process augments research already undertaken by architectural historians, who provide traditional critique and analysis, by testing such studies further using a range of contemporary digital techniques. The findings demonstrate the significance of the process of constructing digital representations of architectural artefacts. This is important, as inferences have to be made due to representational source data such as architectural drawings almost always being incomplete. Therefore parallel study into the architect, their architecture and the contemporary context they worked within has to be investigated in order to fill in gaps in an informed way. The study of such primary and secondary source data may also reveal lines of enquiry that can be investigated using digital techniques. The key here is the advanced knowledge that digital tools bring compared to the critique of a work of architecture that was carried out in a pre-digital context.

Download programme (pdf)

Workshop: The History of Crime and the Courts in Three Dimensions

We are very pleased to be able to announce details of the project’s third workshop, which will focus on historical 3D reconstruction and visualization and on the importance of the physical space of the courtroom in influencing and mediating experiences of justice. This is closely related to key strands in the project’s Voices of Authority research theme.

Event Details

This half-day workshop addresses the ways in which historians can use 3D modelling to better understand and communicate the experience of standing trial in the past. Part of the Digital Panopticon research programme, speakers from history, digital humanities, architecture and the law will consider how the exploration of physical space is changing historical understandings of crime and the courts.

Tuesday 20 October, 9:00-13:00, Sussex Humanities Lab, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton.

It is free of charge and anyone with an interest in the topic is welcome, but space may be limited, so please register in advance.

Provisional Timetable

9:00 – Coffee
9:30 – Linda Mulcahy (LSE), and Emma Rowden (Sydney), Title to be confirmed.
10:15 – Valeria Vitale (King’s London), An Ontology for 3D Visualization in Cultural Heritage
11:00 – Coffee
11:20 – Tim Hitchcock, Re-imagining the Defendant’s Experience at the Old Bailey in 3D.
11:50 –  Nick Webb (Liverpool),  Title to be confirmed (sound and cathedrals).

Event booking page

CFP: Digital Panopticon: Penal History in a Digital Age

We are delighted to announce our call for papers for the project’s Australian conference! The deadline for submissions is 30 November. We particularly encourage proposals from postgraduates, early career researchers, independent researchers, family historians and public historians. (Also, although the CFP doesn’t mention such new-fangled things, if you’d like to present at a poster session or in an alternative format to the standard academic presentation, I’d urge you to get in touch, as early as possible, outlining your proposal.)

Call for Papers

Submissions are invited for a conference to be held at the University of Tasmania, 22-24 June 2016 on the digital humanities and the history of prisons, the law, courts and convict transportation systems. The conference will address ways in which the increasing amounts of data generated by criminal justice systems available in digital form can be used to shed light on the past. An exciting aspect of the meeting is that it represents an opportunity to bring together researchers from four existing high profile collaborations:

  • Digital Panopticon (Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield, Sussex, Oxford, Tasmania) funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK
  • Founders and Survivors (Universities of Melbourne, Tasmania, Guelph, Liverpool, Illinois) funded by the Australian Research Council
  • Carceral Archipelago (Leicester) funded by the European Community
  • The Prosecution Project (Griffith University) funded by the Australian Research Council.

Papers which address the theme of the conference from researchers not affiliated with these research teams are also encouraged, including research higher degree students and family historians. Submissions will be particularly welcome which explore the ways in which digital technologies can enhance research understandings in the following areas:

  • Life course offending including the onset of offending and factors contributing to desistence.
  • The intergenerational impacts of offending and punishment.
  • Digital dark tourism or ways in which the availability of electronic data has shaped the packaging criminal justice history and the ethical implications associated with increasing availability of data.
  • Opportunities for using prison, transportation and criminal justice data to explore the history of the family.
  • The relationship between colonisation, unfree labour and penal transportation.
  • The analysis of court reporting (including digitised newspapers) and prisoner and witness testimony.
  • Ways in which data visualisation techniques including GIS, 3D and digital mapping can be used to explore criminal justice data.
  • The analysis of biometric data including information about age, height, literacy, scars, injuries and tattoos.
  • The law, penal policy and changing social conditions.
  • The epistemology of court, criminal and other penal record keeping.

Email abstracts of no more than 250 words together with a 50 word biographical note to Jennifer.MacFarlane@utas.edu.au by 30 November 2015.

Download: Call for papers (pdf)

Record Linkage Workshop Report, Part 2

The second half of the workshop was devoted to work in progress from the Digital Panopticon –summaries of which have already appeared (or will soon be appearing) on this blog, so watch this space! As such, I’ll say less about these papers than those from Session 1.

Jamie McLaughlin — ‘How to Disappear Completely: Linking Transportation Records in the Digital Panopticon

Jamie McLaughlin presented some of the insights gained from our recent (and still very early) explorations in linking records of the trial and transportation of convicts in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century London. Uncertainty ‘plagues the records’, and Jamie discussed some of the ways in which we have tried to maximize the quality of the name matches made across the records, such as the use of spelling and date variances, creating control scenarios, and the use of variant lists over general algorithms, all ultimately with an eye on computational performance — an issue which we cannot simply disregard, however much our desire for ‘perfect’ matching techniques. In short, we need to find an optimal, complementary balance of automated and manual work, allowing computers and humans to each do what they’re good at — an ideal strategy reflected in the case of the ‘robot butler’.

Lucy Williams — ‘What’s in a name? Convicts, Context and Multiple Record Linkage

Lucy Williams talked about her recent work in manually checking the automated linkage process undertaken by Jamie, particularly in identifying why good matches have failed to be made. One reason for this is simple name variance — variable spellings of the same surname are notoriously prevalent in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century records. Nor is the data from one record set (such as the Old Bailey Proceedings) carried over consistently to other records. But there is also the problem of “John Smith” — how do we prise apart and correctly link individuals tried at the same session of the Old Bailey who have the same name, spelled in exactly the same way? We can keep adding in information from other sources in order to try and verify these kind of multiple name matches, but that isn’t necessarily always the answer, particularly in terms of automated processes. Adding in all the John Smiths from the census, for instance, can simply lead to even more links. The crucial question for us then is, at what point do we draw a line under things and stop adding in contextual data?

Record Linkage Workshop Report, Part 1

In the first half of this workshop on record linkage we had three fantastic papers from guest speakers who were invited to talk about their own experiences of conducting record linkage in historical research. Each speaker offered a different perspective on the subject, allowing us to think about a wide range of issues relating to record linkage and generating ideas which will be extremely useful to us on the Digital Panopticon.

Jeremy Boulton — ‘Place, Mobility and Class Barriers: The Perils and Possibilities of Nominal Linkage in the Metropolis’

Jeremy Boulton of the University of Newcastle got the event off to a fantastic start with a fascinating and though-provoking window into his self-confessed ‘gruesome fascination’ with nominal record linkage. Reflecting on his experiences as part of the Pauper Lives in Georgian London and Manchester project, Jeremy spoke about the broader methodological (rather than strictly technical) issues associated with record linkage, highlighting both the benefits, but also the inherent dangers, of linking individuals across multiple historical records.

On the one hand, when carried out successfully, nominal record linkage can be an effective means by which to check the accuracy of our historical records. Whilst perfect accuracy is beyond attainment in historical record linkage (as E. A. Wrigley said many years ago, and which still holds true today), nevertheless the creation and collation of successful links allows us to identify the (otherwise imperceptible) lies and concealments of the people being record.

On the other hand, of course, the difficulties associated with nominal record linkage makes the successful creation of links (and thus exposing the ‘fiction in the archives’) a problematic task. Transcription errors (by both the original scribes and present-day transcribers) will defeat even the most sophisticated linkage methodologies, and confirming information can’t always be obtained.

In the latter part of his paper, Jeremy presented an absorbing case-study of the nominal record linkage of Godfrey Sykes, widely documented in sources such as pollbooks, newspapers, the London electoral database and charity subscriber registers — an apparently respectable Georgian businessman who, it turns out from further digging into the historical sources, fathered four bastards with a woman named Ann Farmer.

Gill Newton — ‘Urban Record Linkage before 1754’

Next, Gill Newton of the University of Cambridge shifted the focus onto the nuts and bolts of record linkage — a paper rich in technical detail which provided the audience with a valuable toolkit for undertaking record linkage, even for the particularly challenging context of creating re-constituted families from eighteenth-century London.

Starting with an informative background on the contents of an eighteenth-century parish register and what is meant by a re-constituted family, Gill then noted some of the key challenges which face any researcher looking to undertake urban record linkage. These include a high level of population turnover; rapid growth from migration; blurred parish and administrative boundaries; and a high risk of mistaken identities. There are, however, advantages to linking urban records, such as more detailed registers; a more diverse name base; the ability to sample viably; and the further information generated by civic administration.

Gill then treated us to a fascinating discussion of name distribution in eighteenth-century parish registers. Forenames were heavily bunched around the most common names (John, Mary, Elizabeth etc.). By contrast, whilst some surnames constituted a large proportion of the whole (such as Smith), the distribution of surnames had a much longer ‘tail’ compared to forenames. Moreover, there were stark differences in the patterns of name distribution between rural England and London.

Finally, Gill highlighted some of the most important tools for undertaking nominal record linkage, including phonetic matching and surname dictionary examples, as well as the principles of algorithmic record linkage. She offered some extremely useful tips on how to maximize the quality of the linkages created, emphasising that successful matching requires careful attention and a rigorous methodology — in other words, the cautionary mantra with record linkage should be: ‘garbage in, garbage out’.

Ciara Breathnach — ‘Irish Records Linkage 1864–1913: Big, Macro and Micro Data’

In the final paper of this first session, Ciara Breathnach from the University of Limerick talked about the approach and some of the findings from the Irish Record Linkage 1864–1913 project, on which she is the principal investigator. Funded by the Irish Research Council, and developed in partnership with the Digital Repository of Ireland, University of Limerick and Insight at NUI Galway, the project aims to provide a comprehensive map of infant and maternal mortality for Dublin from 1864 to 1913. The project will reconstruct family units and create longitudinal histories by linking records of Birth, Marriage and Death, which together include millions of name instances.

Starting with an overview of the Irish Record Linkage project, Ciara then discussed some of the forces which served to shape the recording of census and civil data in nineteenth-century Ireland, before moving on to discuss some of the differing definitions of ‘Big Data’, a term about which there is seemingly little agreement.

Ciara also provided useful information on the ontologies utilised by the Irish Record Linkage project, describing the ways in which the data has been analysed and linked, noting the necessity (in the case of such extensive numbers of available records) to sample in order to make such a project feasible.

Finally, through a case-study of Achill in Dublin Ciara presented a glimpse of the significant findings already generated by the Irish Record Linkage project. By mapping infant deaths in the parish in the 1890s, Ciara revealed the nature of the relationship between child mortality and the geography of local health care (in the form of doctors and nurses) in late nineteenth-century Ireland. As Ciara concluded, it is through these kind of detailed micro-level studies, produced by record linkage at the macro level, that we can gain a better understanding of the past.

We are very grateful to all three speakers for providing us with so much food for thought, and so many ideas to follow up!

Event: Record Linkage Workshop, Sheffield, 4 November 2014

We’re delighted to be able to announce our second project workshop.

It’s another afternoon workshop, this time in Sheffield, and the subject is Record Linkage (part of the Epistemologies research theme). We’re particularly interested in the challenges and rewards of applying automated (and semi-automated) nominal record linkage to very large-scale historical datasets, with all their variability, fuzziness and uncertainties; our work on the project starts from these questions:

How can we improve current record-linkage processes to maximise both the number of individuals linked across different datasets and the amount of information obtained about each individual? What is the minimum amount of contextual information needed in order to conduct successful large-scale record linkage of data pertaining to specific individuals?

In addition to presentations about our work from project team members, we have three guest speakers who will bring extensive experience of historical record linkage projects:

We think this will add up to a stimulating programme and discussion that will be of interest to many historians who need to link information about large numbers of individuals and using data that is continually growing in diversity and scale.

Download: Workshop Programme/Flyer (pdf).

Workshop Information

When: 2-5.30pm, Tuesday 4 November 2014
Where Humanities Research Institute, Gell Street, Sheffield

Attendance is free but numbers may be limited so you will need to register in advance: email Sharon Howard (sharon.howard@sheffield.ac.uk).

Visualising Life-Grids and Narrating the Lives of Convicts

One of the great opportunities presented by the Digital Panopticon project (and one of the most exciting in my opinion) is in uncovering more about the processes of crime and punishment by placing thousands of offenders, and their offences, back within the context of their own lives.

Tracing offenders through the records has been a preoccupation of several groups of historians and criminologists (for example Barry Godfrey, Heather Shore, Pam Cox, David Cox, Helen Johnston, Zoe Alker, Joanne Turner, and Stephen Farrall) in the last decade. On account of the laborious nature of record linkage those studies which have focussed on tracing groups offenders through civil as well as criminal datasets have been able to examine a few hundred offenders at a time. Those pioneering this methodology have taken the collected information and sorted it into ‘lifegrids’ which chart life events and changes for each individual. Lifegrids might typically include details of birth marriage and death, family evolution, employment and residential addresses, and offending and punishment history. Of course, the depth and breadth of documents and information available on different groups of, or individual offenders, dictates how much material can be recorded in each life grid.

Other than life-grid format, there are a number of ways that this information can be presented and communicated. Even the simplest visualisations are able to show the role that offending had in any one person’s life. This might be through indicating what proportion of an individual’s life was spent in custody, or how many offences were recorded against them at what stage of their life. It is possible to chart how someone’s offending accelerated and decelerated. From an institutional perspective it is possible to indicate how an individual’s weight and health changed over time, or how their behaviour and privileges impacted upon their experience of punishment. The myriad of ways in which this fascinating and complex data can be presented has some exciting potential for how others see, interrogate, and engage with this fantastically rich data.

To begin to explore these possibilities, we have been working with an example offender: Patrick Madden (one of a number of offenders included in Johnston, Godfrey and Cox’s ESRC funded research on ‘The costs of imprisonment’).

P Madden

Born and raised in Sheffield, Patrick began offending around the age of sixteen. Although often motivated by property, Patrick’s offences were primarily violent in nature. Madden had 15 offences recorded against him over an almost thirty year period. Each of these was committed either in Sheffield or other close-by northern towns such as Wakefield and Doncaster. It was in these locations that he was incarcerated, accept for one occasion of penal servitude when he served seven years of penal servitude in London, and the south of England. It does not appear as if Patrick ever married or had children, nor that he managed to establish a life for himself that did not involve repeat offending for long before dying at the age of 52.


Patrick Maddens lifegrid, of course, contains much more information than this brief overview might suggest. Patrick’s civil and penal records allow us to know about many elements of Patrick’s life right down to his familial relationships and sexual preferences. However, even if we take the most ‘bare bones’ approach to Patrick’s life narrative, it is possible to start creating some interesting visualisations based on his experiences and offending history.

DataHero Patrick Madden years of imprisonment in life course (1) DataHero Patrick Madden type of offending over life course


DataHero Weight over period of imprisonment line DataHero Penal class over time of imprisonment


Yet the size and scale of the research being undertaken by the Digital Panopticon means that we are faced not just with presenting Patrick Madden’s life, but instead the lives of all of the ‘Patricks’ that went through the old bailey between the late 18th and early 20th centuries. This poses two distinct challenges which we will face in presenting the mass of information traditionally held in lifegrids.  First is that the range of records being linked together for each offender is unprecedented. Some records are well known to our researchers and relatively straightforward to visualise, such as criminal registers that allow us to examine date, place and type of offence. Others such as the changing picture of family life that might evolve from three successive census entries, or the seemingly random personal or professional information that can be carried in a newspaper report, are far more difficult to quantify and visualise. This first problem will become clearer and hopefully less significant as more records are collected and linked. It should be fairly straightforward to identify the information which can be presented easily, and to adapt that which cannot. The second challenges we must meet is that of potentially presenting to other researchers and the public tens of thousands of individual life and offending histories. What we need to work on is finding a way of presenting a range of different information about our offenders both individually and in aggregate so that it is possible for users to access information about an individual they are interested in, but also to see how such an individual compares and contrasts with others in the study – something which enables researchers to identify how typical an individual’s experience was.

BG offered some initial ideas of how we might best achieve this when we met in Oxford. By creating ‘strand’ visualisations which present a mass of offenders by a few ‘key values’ –  for example the year of their first recorded offence, nature of offence, or length of offending career – and then allowing users to further restrict what strands are shown to them by other values – for example sex and location- it would be possible to access information about a single individual, whilst getting a sense of how they match up to their contemporaries.

BG visualisation

We hope that this will prove an excellent starting point as we work to develop future visualisations and methods of presentation which will allow the Digital Panopticon team, fellow researchers, and members of the public to explore, understand, and get the most from the fantastic wealth of data at our fingertips.


Event: Visualising Data Workshop, Oxford, April 2014

We are delighted to be able to announce our first project workshop on Visualising Data, part of our Epistemologies research theme. We anticipate that the workshop will be of interest to many people (not just from large projects!) interested in the potential benefits and pitfalls of visualising large historical datasets.

Along the way, we’ll be reflecting on one of our key research questions:

What can visualisation techniques tell us about the overall shape/distinctive patterns in the data, and what does this reveal about the various processes by which the data were created, and their constraints/limitations?

We’re in the process of exploring data visualisation techniques that will enable us to analyse the datasets both individually and collectively, and members of the project team will talk and invite discussion about both the academic and technical challenges this presents. But we also have three excellent external speakers to provide perspectives from a range of fields and projects: Rob Procter (Warwick), Min Chen (Oxford) and William Allen (Oxford).

It’s an afternoon workshop which we hope will enable as many UK-based people as possible to make a one-day trip of it.

Download the Visualising Data Flyer for full programme details.

Workshop Information

When: 2pm-6pm, Monday 14 April 2014
Where: Wharton Room, All Souls College, High St, Oxford, UK.
Twitter: #dpdataviz

How to attend: Email Sharon Howard (sharon.howard@sheffield.ac.uk) to register. Places are very limited, so contact asap!