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Historical Criminology


Admission requirements

None. Introduction into Criminology, Introduction into History or Introduction to Penal Law (or equivalent) are recommended.

This course is especially designed for international “Exchange and Study Abroad students” who are interested in Crime and Criminal Justice.


The discipline of historical criminology deals with the study of the history of crime, criminal law and the criminal justice system. This course gives an introduction in the discipline of historical criminology and focusses on the situation in Europe from the mid-18th century. The course has a comparative European perspective, but the history of crime and the development of the Criminal Justice system in The Netherlands in the past two centuries will be used as main example.

This course will address the main questions of historical criminology, i.e.:

  • How did ideas about the norms and definitions of crime transform in history?

  • How did the nature and levels of crime develop over time?

  • How did theoretical ideas about the determinants of crime and criminals change in the past centuries? And:

  • How did societies and states in the past centuries react to crime, e.g. with crime prevention measures, sentencing, and the establishing of refined criminal justice systems?

This course addresses these questions and gives an overview of recent research on the history of crime and criminal justice in Europe and The Netherlands from around 1750 until today. It tackles the main questions of historical criminology chronologically, paying due attention to the evolving economic, social, and political aspects of the continent over these centuries. It addresses specifically the different forms of criminal offending and the changing interpretations and understandings of that offending at both elite and popular levels. It explores also how both old regimes and the new nation states, that emerged in the early 19th century, responded to criminal activity with the development of police forces and the refinement of forms of punishment. The course will demonstrate that many ideas addressed as new by contemporary politicians and policy makers and in current debates on crime and its 'solutions', have a very long and illustrious history.

Course objectives

Achievement levels
The following achievement levels apply with regard to the course:
Student are able to:

  • Describe the historical development in definitions of crime, theories on crime, the prevalence and nature of crime, and reactions to crime in Europe - and especially The Netherlands - since the mid-18th century.

  • Analyze the interplay between definitions of crime, theories on crime, crime levels and reactions to crime in Europe (and especially The Netherlands) since the mid-18th century.

  • Describe recent ideas on explanations of crime and reactions to crime as proposed in current debates on crime and being able and analyze these in the Dutch and European historical context.


The timetable of this course can be found in uSis.

Mode of instruction

Not applicable.

Not applicable.

Other methods of instruction

  • Description: Interactive classes of 4 hours in which work group assignments and lecturing alternate. These classes will be linked to excursions to historical museums and sites

  • Number of (4 or 6 hour) instructions: 5

  • Name of instructor: Prof. dr. P. (Paul) Nieuwbeerta

  • Required preparation by students: Reading the literature for each week

Assessment method

Examination forms
Portfolio of written assignments (30% of grade)
Paper (70% of grade)

  • All requirements mentioned above have to be met and the two components of the final grade should be at least a 5.5 in order to complete the course successfully. If this is not the case, the lowest partial grade will be registered as final grade.

  • There will be a resit for both the portfolio and the final paper.

  • The partial exams that have been finished with a passing grade, will be valid up to and including the academic year following the year in which the grade has been achieved. To this there is one exception: when the learning objectives, content, design or examination of a course has been changed, the course coordinator can decide that the validity of the partial exam concerned has expired due to didactic reasons. This will be stated in the course description of the academic year in which the change(s) will be implemented.

Honours College Law students are required to write an extra assignment.
Submission procedures
Turn it in (Blackboard) and hardcopy.


More information on this course is offered in Blackboard.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

  • Book: To be announced

  • Additional articles and chapters: These will be distributed through Blackboard (web links only).

Course information guide
Will be distributed through Blackboard.


Students have to register for courses and exams through uSis. Exchange students can register through the online registration system of the International Office.

Contact details

Coordinator: Prof. dr. P. Nieuwbeerta
Work address: Institute for Criminal Law and Criminology
Contact information:
Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 7462 (secretariat)


  • Institute: Criminal Law and Criminology

  • Department: Criminology

  • Room number secretary: B3.11

  • Opening hours: Mo/Tu/Th/Fr 9-17 h

  • Telephone number secretary: +31 (0)71 527 7324

  • Email: