The Rise of the Modern Detective in nineteenth and twentieth century Britain, Europe and North America module (HU52008)

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Module code


This module introduces students to the study of professional detectives in Britain, Europe and North America from the 19th to the mid-20th centuries. The module aims at providing students with the skills and knowledge to understand crime detection in a variety of social, political and cultural contexts.

The course will focus on the following topics as key themes:


  • The early development of police detectives in Britain and France, 1840s-1870s.
  • The Private Eye from Vidocq to Pinkerton.
  • Social Investigation of the Urban Underworld of nineteenth-century London and Paris.
  • Professionalisation and scientification of crime investigation 1880s to 1914.
  • Institutionalisation of Criminal Investigation Departments.
  • Profiling the Detective: education, professionalization, and career.
  • The Politics of Professional Crime Detection in the 20th century.
  • Comparing and contrasting across the detective profession: between cultural specificities and functional necessity


This module is assessed as follows:

  • 4,000 word project (60%)
  • 10 weekly module journals of 600 words each (40%)

Intended learning outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Students will deepen their ability to conceptualize and synthesize historical developments within professional crime detection in Britain, Europe and North America during the 19th and 20th century. Students should acquire sensitivity to the cultural and historical specificities in crime detection, enabling them to assess and compare between countries and across time.

Subject-specific practical and intellectual skills and attributes.

Students undertaking this module will be required to critically analyse historical material from a range of institutional and cultural contexts and assess its historical quality and validity.  Information from various historical sources and interpretations will develop the student’s ability to place fictional accounts in relation to the historical context of professional crime detection across the 19th and 20th centuries.

By comparing and contrasting developments in different countries across Europe and the Indian subcontinent the students will acquire a better understanding of cultural specificities in crime detection.

Transferable, employability and enterprise skills and attributes

MLitt Crime Writing and Forensic Investigation is designed to appeal specifically to aspiring crime writers. This historical component is designed to provide this group with deeper insights into the cultural and socio-political context of crime detection from its inception in the 19th century to maturity in the mid-20th century. The course, if taken by students doing the History MRes is designed to provide student with the necessary skills to undertake research into the cultural history of criminalistics, crime detection and criminal justice.

Students will develop professional and ethical behaviour - either directly during group discussions, and more broadly throughout all that they do in this class - in order to accomplish the tasks at hand with competence and insight. The ability for organizational and time management skills will be essential for students to complete the assigned tasks in balance with their other work and leisure commitments.


Dr Anja Johansen


The course consists of eleven two-hour seminars. Individual consultation with support for coursework will be available to students on demand.