Jonathan Marshall

Closed (1) Understanding Change in 18th and 19th Century English Criminal Law with Text Data Mining

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

This project makes use of the Old Bailey Proceedings online corpus of criminal case reports to address two questions about English criminal law and its role in establishing norms that strongly influenced U.S. criminal law. Expect to have in-person meetings unless public health or environmental reasons require remote teaching.

1) How did the norms embodied in English criminal law change from the 18th to the 19th century?

From the language in the Proceedings, we have evidence that suggests that criminal law norms changed from redressing harms (which was the basis for criminal law going far back, across many systems like Islamic law) to reinforcing the authority of the state. This went along with institutional changes that gave the state a much stronger role in the process of finding and adjudicating crime. Language in the Proceedings may give us evidence to detect and generalize claims about changing legal norms (this draws from the dictionary methods lab).

2) How much did law follow the 'moral functionalist' paradigm of resolving disputes between crime perpetrators and crime victims (see Langbein), versus providing a basis for the hegemony of a new capitalist class emerging out of the English landed gentry (see Hay)?

There is evidence that seems to support the idea that official punitive norms were consistently undercut by jury decisions that reduced penalties (see the lab on regular expressions and finding reductions in the official value of property crime).


Student researchers will read primary and secondary sources on 18th and 19th century English criminal law and procedure to understand both research questions. Based on Python code developed for Legal Studies 123, students will work on Python notebooks that will implement algorithms that address the two research questions and ensure that others can reproduce the research. Student researchers will also help assemble and investigate text corpora that are contemporary with the Old Bailey Online corpus for additional evidence.

By the end of the research apprenticeship, students will be able to
a) explain the relationship between a sociolegal research question and algorithmic strategies for investigating it;
b) devise strategies for the computational analysis of text corpora;
c) create visualizations and analyses of data from text corpora like the Old Bailey Online corpus.


Qualifications: This URAP is open to students at all levels and in all majors. Applicants must have completed Data 8 with a grade of B or better and must have at least another semester of coursework in a class in which data analysis is a key component. It is strongly recommended for students to have completed Legal Studies 123 so that they are familiar with the text analysis techniques needed and some of literature in the field, but this is not absolutely required.

Weekly Hours: 3-5 hrs

Related website: https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/
Related website: https://github.com/ds-modules/Legalst-123