Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture: “Enthralling” and “Remarkable” Primary Sources

Searching for “extraordinary” materials to enhance understandings of the evolution of criminal justice and penal reform? Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture 1790-1920 features “easy to use navigation” paired with 2.1 million pages of materials supporting the study of nineteenth-century criminal history, law, literature, and justice, to enhance law and society knowledge during a pivotal era of social change. Only Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture, 1790-1920 helps users explore the links between fact and fiction by integrating legal and historical documents with literature, an emerging crime-fiction genre, newspaper reports, and more.

Read a review posted by Cheryl LaGuardia of Library Journal, April, 2016

Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture, 1790–1920 offers rich resources for scholars of history, sociology, criminology, political science, and law by making available over two million pages of items such as broadsides, prints, detective agency records, prisoner records, police gazettes, chapbooks, and trial transcripts among others. . . .

I began by selecting Explore Collections and was taken to a screen displaying links to the database’s 22 collections, accompanied by a “Limit By” column on the left side of the page, which permits one to filter by content type (manuscript, monograph, newspaper, or photograph), document type (ranging from abstract and advertisement to scrapbook), language, or source library. Next, I employed the basic search to query “Madeleine Smith,” retrieving two results: Trial of Mrs. Elizabeth G. Wharton: On the Charge of Poisoning General W.S. Ketchum (monograph), and the article “Reviews of Books,” The Howard Journal, 1961, Issue 4, p. 326. The file also provided a link to view “keywords in context.” The first quoted an attorney in Mrs. Wharton’s trial referencing the Smith case, while the second led to reviews in The Howard Journal. Initially, the highlighted keywords weren’t seen. Then I noticed the relevant page containing my terms began on page 94. Once I moved to that page, I saw the selected words. An advanced search of “Jack the Ripper” resulted in three monographs (one in Spanish), three manuscripts, and 28 newspaper and periodical articles ranging from 1888 to 1949. The digitized images were clear, readable, and easy to browse. The “term frequency” feature graphs any term to show how often the word occurs over time. For example, “psychopath” was rarely used before 1948 but appeared frequently thereafter. There is much remarkable material here. I discovered monographs on Eastern State Penitentiary, manuscripts on Lizzie Borden, who was tried and acquitted for the 1892 axe murders of her father and her stepmother, articles on serial killers H.H. Holmes and Thomas Neill Cream, and information about the unsolved Charles Bravo case. Not only is the content extraordinary, but the navigation through these primary sources is the fast and easy.

This enthralling and straight¬forward file will be well worth its purchase price to libraries supporting serious legal, historical, and criminal justice researchers.


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