Category Archives: Events

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)

Australia’s Convict Sites: Shared past, their present, our future?

Our recent trip to Australia for the Digital Panopticon conference was an invaluable opportunity for so many reasons. We were able to connect and learn from our colleagues across the globe, share our work and develop new ideas and, perhaps most rewarding of all, we had the opportunity to visit some of the remaining places and spaces of convict-era Australia.

Australia has a network of eleven convict sites, designated as UNESCO world heritage sites, in which the buildings and areas of land of Australia’s first penal system are preserved and open to the public. These sites are places of both education and tourism. Australia’s convict heritage sites achieve on a much larger scale the kinds of entertainment and education we can find at home in places like the Galleries of Justice, and Dartmoor Prison Museum. Yet Australia’s transformation from British colony to independent state has allowed it to own and present its convict history in a more frank and reflective way than many of our home grown sites of dark tourism. Australia had been able to separate the historic injustices of the system of transportation from the modern Australian state. Something which seems to inspire a readiness to display their convict past in a more open and critical way than perhaps we do for similar in the UK.

I was lucky enough to visit four of the eleven Australian UNESCO convict sites, which gave a great sense for how the convict past can be preserved and presented. Below I share a few thoughts – and pictures – for each of the sites.

Hyde Park Barracks

The old convict barracks at Hyde Park are one of the earliest of Australia’s Convict heritage sites. Opened in 1819 and used for convicts until 1848 the barracks housed the male convicts who arrived at Sydney Cove (very little remains of the first settlement at Botany Bay). While women were sent out to work for private persons, male convicts were required to undertake public works. Thus, during the day they would labour on the roads and building sites of Australia’s first European settlement and at night they would report back to lodgings at Hyde Park Barracks to be counted, fed, and sheltered.

Hyde Park BarracksThe front of Hyde Park Barracks – central Sydney

The barracks now operate as a ‘living history museum’ which members of the public can tour with or without a free audio guide. There are three levels of the building to visit. The first of which gives not only an overview of the history of convict transportation and the development of Sydney, but also insight into how conservation and interpretation work has been carried out. Two further floors explore the residence of Australia’s first convicts (and other uses to which the building was put in the post-convict era). The majority of the rooms inside the barracks are sparsely decorated and furnished. Boards provide information on the uses of each room, but visitors are left to take in the space and imagine how convicts used it.

HPB 3

One exception to this on the middle floor is the ‘bunk room’. A simple timber frame suspend dozens of tightly packed canvas hammocks, the likes of which early convicts would have slept on. Visitors have the option to try a hammock to get a sense of sleeping arrangements for early convicts.

Bunk room

As a museum, Hyde Park Barracks are probably the least atmospheric of the convict sites– and most familiar in format for UK visitors. However they still provided information of genuine interest and importance, and had used some really thoughtful interpretation to encourage visitors to engage with the space and the experiences of convicts who previously inhabited it.

Port Arthur

The beauty and serenity of Port Arthur’s grounds makes it difficult as a visitor to truly comprehend the brutality of life at Australia’s most famous ‘site of secondary punishment’. A place where the worst reoffending convicts were sent. The complex also includes several other sites such as the cemetery island, and Point Puer a site used for juveniles, both of which visitors are able to ‘cruise’ to.

PA ruins PA scenery

Port Arthur Historic Convict Site

For the main part, the buildings at Port Arthur are derelict. Shells of former buildings, in some cases little more than ruins. Surprisingly, this does not detract from the atmosphere or effect of the place, rather it enhances it. While visitors are free to take group tours or special more fun-focussed events like ‘ghost walks’, Port Arthur is also a place where visitors are free to walk round, explore the buildings, and reflect on the history of the site. Interpretation and reconstruction has been left to a minimum.

Port Arthur PennitentiaryPort Arthur Penitentiary from the outside

Port Arthur cell-space

The inside of the penitentiary showing the location of now absent cells

Port Arthur cellsPort Arthur Pennitentiary Cell

Remnants of penitentiary cells

Of all the buildings on Port Arthur, it is the visitor’s centre, and the separate prison which resemble most closely sites like the Hyde Park Barracks. Beneath the visitors centre a –soon to be reinterpreted- exhibition gives the feel for the story and process of transportation to Tasmania (and contains the odd familiar face too).Hamish Maxwell StewartThe DP’s Hamish Maxwell-Stewart was instrumental in the creation of Port Arthur’s current visitor centre exhibition.

The well-preserved separate prison provides corridors of cells for visitors to see and a separate and silent chapel to explore. With the audio and visual effects kept to a minimum, the eerie quietness of this site gives a fantastic sense for the isolation and tension prisoners must have lived with on a daily basis.

    Port Arthur Seperate Cell Port Arthur seperate cells corridoorThe separate cells
Port Arthur seperate Chapel

Port Arthur’s separate chapel

Cascades Female Factory

Cascades female factory (to the south and west of central Hobart) is one of the smaller of Australia’s convict sites. Much like the interpretation at Port Arthur, reconstruction has been kept to a minimum. Information is available but the ruins of the site are left to speak for themselves. The site at which female convicts were detained when they arrived in Tasmania before being sent out to work, for punishment of a secondary offence, or in case of pregnancy under sentence, sits unassuming and barely noticeable at the side of a road, with little outside signage to indicate the significance of its former years.

Cff front entranceThe outside of Cascades Female Factory

Very litter remains of the factory grounds – barely more than the outside walls. Again, like at Port Arthur, rather than chose reconstructive buildings that let visitors experience the space ‘as it would have been’, at Cascades Female Factory subtle markings and a few information boards tell the story while allowing visitors to take in the size of the plot, the oppressive presence of the steep hills to the rear, and the full force of the elements outside.

Cff yard plan Cff yard remains

The plan of the former yard, and the physical space

Wandering through the remains of three of the original five yards on a cold and drizzling day provided a sense of the bleak, claustrophobic, and isolated existence prisoners would have experienced at the factory.

Fremantle Prison:

The most recent of Australia’s convict sites, Fremantle prison is unique in that its penal history stretches from its convict origin in the 1850s until 1991 when it ceased to operate as a state prison. In that time the prison has become so much more than a convict site. Something reflected in how its heritage is presented to visitors.

FP wing outside Fremantle Prison main entrance

Visitors can only access Fremantle prison by one of three guided tours, only one of which is a general guide to the history of the prison, and not themed like the ‘‘great escapes’ tour. However, due to the nature of the site it is the most complete and ‘authentic’ experience of a convict-era prison as the majority of buildings have been preserved completely.

FP inner wing  FP wing division 2

Fremantle Prison’s ‘Division 2’ Wing

Built by Western Australian convicts in the 1850s and used to detain them until the last convicts to WA in 1868 were freed, the history of the convict experience is intermingled with the history of imprisonment. Distinctions between what facets of prison life belong to the convict era, and which developed later are not always clear. However, the prison provides a fantastic opportunity see original convict cells fitted with replica hammocks and furniture  next to larger, later, cells showing how conditions for prisoners improved in the post-transportation era.

FP condemned cell FP Convict cell 3 FP reconstructed convict cell

The condemned cell, and two examples of convict-era cells at Fremantle Prison

Some other elements including the chapel are also preserved as they would have been in the convict era.

FP convict chapel

Yet due to the prison’s use throughout the twentieth century – a later history still very much preoccupying former prison staff who now act as guides and in other roles around the site – modernisation of exercise yards, kitchens, bathrooms means that unlike other convict sites, Freemantle prison has inevitably lost some of its convict-era identity.

Australia’s convict sites provide some of the best preserved and most fascinating physical reminders of the transportation era. Ultimately, all of the sites are undertaking a difficult balancing act. First and foremost they preserve some of (white) Australia’s most important heritage, and educate visitors about the history of crime, punishment, and convicts in a surprisingly sympathetic way. Yet these sites also succeed in encouraging entertainment-driven tourism so important to funding heritage projects and future preservation.

A chance to see the buildings and surroundings, so important in the lives of the individuals we study, was a real privilege. Each visit was a moving – and thought provoking – experience, the likes of which are still largely out of reach in the U.K. What seems to make convict sites so unique is that, East, West, and South, Australia’s convict heritage is presented as an unpleasant feature of the British past – something modern Australia has come to terms with and learnt from while remaining wholly separate to– in terms of both justice and human experience. An important factor which hasn’t been fully achieved in many UK sites of crime and justice heritage. After all, while Australia is preserving its convict sites as places of history, heritage and education, some of the most famous remnants of our own convict era, prisons like Brixton, Pentonville, and Wormwood Scrubs, function not as tools for learning and reflection, but still in their original capacity.

The evolution of record-keeping as a means of understanding criminality, 1780-1860

Bob Shoemakers’ keynote address from the Penal History in a Digital Age conference in Tasmania, June 2016, focused on the project’s Epistemologies research theme. He asked: Why did they keep such detailed records about criminals?

What makes the Digital Panopticon project possible is the fact that in nineteenth-century Britain and Australia detailed records were kept for the first time about the personal characteristics of convicted criminals.  This information, particularly ages, makes the sophisticated record linkage possible which allows us to compile such substantial life archives for so many convicts.

This was not always the case.  In the eighteenth century, and earlier, we very rarely know anything more about convicts than their names and offences; the one exception is convicts who were executed, whose lives were written up in the wonderfully rich, but religiously framed, Ordinary of Newgate’s Accounts

In contrast, records containing personal information about convicts proliferated after 1780. By 1860 a vast amount of personal data was collected: in addition to their names, offences, verdicts, and sentences, details were recorded about ages, places of birth, occupations, marital status, number of children, and parentage; descriptions of their physical appearance (height, weight, eye and hair colour, ‘build’, marks, and tattoos); whether they could read and write, their education, religion; and previous convictions, character, and behaviour in prison.

Overview of developments in record keeping

Overview of developments in record keeping about criminals, 1778-1842

The table provides a brief overview of changes in record-keeping between 1780 and 1860.  It can be summarised in three main stages:

The first major innovations, in the late eighteenth century, were the recording of ages in the registers of the hulks (following the introduction of this punishment after the cessation of transportation to the American colonies), and the creation of the criminal registers in 1791 by the sheriffs of London and Middlesex.

Home Office Criminal Register, 1791 (HO 26)

Home Office Criminal Register, 1791 (HO 26)

The criminal registers recorded, largely in tabular form, information about the ages, places of birth, occupations, and physical descriptions for each person accused of a crime and committed to Newgate Prison.

Lavishly embellished front page of 1791 Criminal Register

Lavishly embellished front page of 1791 Criminal Register

The elaborate title page in florid handwriting, which proudly promised ‘a particular description of each offender’, indicates the pride taken by the clerk in its creation.

The second stage came with the opening of the first national penitentiary, Millbank Prison, in 1816, whose registers also included information about prisoners’ mental state (their character, behaviour, and religion) and family circumstances (marital status for both sexes, number of children for female prisoners).

Millbank Prison Register

Millbank Prison Register, c.1820

The third stage, in the 1830s and 1840s, saw important new developments in existing record series and the development of new record keeping practices by prison chaplains.  Information was collected about education (literacy skills and degree of previous instruction, particularly in prison chaplain records), and family and friends, and, in the registers of the newly built Pentonville Prison, prisoner weights.

Why did these changes occur? Scholars have offered various theoretical perspectives.  These innovations can be seen as an aspect of the evolution and growth in power of the modern nation state; as part of a society-wide cultural/political initiative to obtain knowledge as a form of control; or as part of growing cultural importance given to ‘facts’. While all these explanations are relevant, we would like to offer a fourth, more crime-focused, reason: that this information collection was the result of a growing desire to understand the criminal. Before developing this argument, what are the limitations of the alternative explanations?

Record-keeping as part of the evolution of the modern nation state works well for Australia, which was run as a military colony for the first few decades (essentially as a prison without walls), so the ‘state’ could easily claim near-absolute power.  But in England a focus on the growing power of the state at a national level, on Parliament and the Home Office, doesn’t explain why so many of the innovations in the collection of information occurred at the local level, by local officials, quasi-officials, and independent social investigators such as Henry Mayhew. The criminal registers, for example, were invented by the sheriffs of London.

And while the creation of the Millbank prison registers was dictated by the statute which authorised the building of the prison, the Rules and Regulations for the prison established by the prison committee mandated the collection of additional information, and the actual registers kept by prison officers went even further.  If anything, this story is about a growth in local state power, not national power, and even then it was often not formally sanctioned by local leaders.

Under the 1823 Gaol Act, prison chaplains were required to produce an annual written ‘statement’ on the condition of the prisoners under their charge and, from 1840, national prison regulations required them to keep a ‘character book’.  There is no evidence that these records were expected to be detailed.  However, in their efforts to reform prisoners (and facilitated by the requirement that they visit prisoners on a regular basis), some chaplains went far beyond these requirements and collected extensive qualitative and quantitative evidence.

John Clay Prison Register

John Clay’s Prison Register Template

John Clay, chaplain to the Preston House of Correction adopted a set of registers in 1839 for recording a vast range of information about those committed to the jail. Although he was the apotheosis of information-gathering chaplains, Clay was not alone: at least twenty other chaplains between 1820 and 1860 also produced detailed reports on their prisoners.

These information gathering activities by local officials were not always welcomed by their superiors.  While some local magistrates and central government officials applauded them, others raised objections, and some reports were even suppressed. So, this doesn’t look like a straightforward example of the growth of national state power.

One could instead see the growth of record keeping as a wider phenomenon, perhaps a society-wide development, in which there was a coming together of local and national institutions to obtain knowledge about the governed, as a means of shaping their conduct.  This is clearly a significant part of the story, particularly in the context of the apparent increasing ungovernability of society from the late 18th century, in the wake of riot, revolution, and rising rates of crime, but the wide range of individuals involved and scale of the information collected makes it difficult to describe this phenomenon solely as a political exercise.

Moreover, we should not exaggerate either the desire of the state to collect this information, or the amount of power this information gave to those in authority. In a perverse way the collection of this information gave some agency to the accused and the criminal, since they were often the only persons in the room who knew their ages, places of birth, occupations, and religion.  At least some prisoners enjoyed their own form of power, reinventing aspects of their identity to, for example, avoid harsher punishments for those with previous convictions or secure more comfortable prison conditions. In 1856 the Governor of Cold Bath Fields prison complained about the large number of convicts who entered his prison with the surname of Smith, thereby creating new identities for themselves so that their previous convictions would not be noticed.

If a political explanation doesn’t work, perhaps we can adopt a more culturally focused one. Bearing in mind that increasing amounts of information were collected at this time about a wider range of issues than just crime and disorder, we could see innovations in record keeping as a result of the growing weight placed on facts, and statistics based on those ‘facts’, throughout society at this time.  As anyone who has spent time in British archives knows, the collection of information on a wide range of topics did expand dramatically at this time, but this doesn’t explain why criminals were some of the first subjects of these new record-keeping practices, alongside two other groups: military recruits and aliens.

So these existing explanations don’t fully explain the how, when and what of the increasing collection of personal information about criminals.  Our explanation is this: these changes were the result of a new moral and empirically-driven desire to better understand the criminal and the causes of crime (and not just control or punish him).

There were, of course, some more mundane and practical reasons why information about criminals was collected: to assist in arresting suspects and apprehending escapees from prisons, and to assist those responsible for reaching sentencing and pardoning decisions, and determining penal regimes for those committed to prison.  But even if we accept that these explanations have some purchase, they do not apply to many types of information collected, nor do they explain why such information was not collected earlier.

Instead, this record-keeping points to the existence of a diffuse and varied, but nonetheless significant information gathering culture among local officials. There was clearly a desire on the part of these officials to understand their custodial subjects and their crimes, but since there was no consensus about the causes of crime in this period there was no agreement about the types of information that needed to be collected, and record-keeping practices varied.

John Clay Statistics

John Clay’s Statistics on Education and Offending

Above is John Clay’s table associating degrees of education with various causes of crime, including drinking, idleness, poverty, etc.  Not being able to read is associated with idleness and ‘confirmed bad habits’ (whatever that means), while being able to read and write is associated with drinking as a cause of crime (a warning we should all perhaps heed).

Rather than merely an example of the growth of state power, innovations in criminal record keeping in the nineteenth century reflect a growing desire among those responsible for dealing with crime at the local level to understand their subjects, and to develop new methods of preventing crime and new methods of reforming offenders.

Uncovering digital history in Tasmania: The Digital Panopticon

We are delighted to have a guest post by Lauren Vogel of The Prosecution Project reporting on their experience of the Penal History in a Digital Age conference in June 2016.

Perhaps nothing illustrates the intersection between the past and the present more aptly than digital history. Advances in digital technology and new media hold the potential to transform the way historical research is conducted and, in the process, our understanding of both the past and present. The Digital Panopticon – a recent conference convened in Hobart, Tasmania – exemplified the quiet revolution underway in the humanities.

The conference presentations were a testament to the way in which modern technology can be utilised to preserve, research, and understand the history of crime and punishment and the experiences of the individuals who lived these phenomena. Ambitious large-scale digitisation projects from around the world were well represented in the program – the Digital Panopticon, Founders and Survivors, the Prosecution Project, and the Carceral Archipelago.

The conference represented a milestone for the Prosecution Project, with members of the research team presenting the first collective roundtable since the project’s inception in 2013. The Prosecution Project is digitising Australian court records from the 1830s to the 1960s and, serendipitously, the roundtable coincided with the entry of the 100,000th trial record in the online open-source database. A later version of the Digital Panopticon roundtable was presented at the Queensland Supreme Court in celebration of this second milestone (a recording  can be seen here).

The Prosecution Project roundtable explored the Australian trial process from beginning to end, with a focus on some of its important actors and decision-makers. It challenged some long-standing ideas in the historical and criminological literature and highlighted the potential of digital history to reimagine and clarify our understanding of the past.

PhD scholar Lisa Durnian opened the substantive discussion with an exploration of the evolution of the guilty plea. Representing a fundamental shift in the adversarial legal system, the rapid rise of the guilty plea in the mid-20th century is often attributed to an increase in plea-bargaining between prosecutors and defence lawyers at trial. However, Lisa found that from 1941 most guilty pleas were entered at the committal hearing, raising the interesting probability that factors aside from plea-bargaining were at play within the Australian legal system.

Project Leader Mark Finnane explored the role of lawyers in the trial process, showcasing the potential of the Prosecution Project to provide quantitative data in a hitherto speculative research area. Prospective research questions encompassed the effect of lawyers on judicial conduct, how the rights of defendants were shaped by lawyering, and the different tactics employed by lawyers throughout the trial process. Additional findings presented in another paper with Research Fellow Alana Piper indicated that legal representation bestowed significant advantages, including an increased likelihood of acquittal, receiving bail, and favourable sentencing outcomes (e.g. bond, suspended sentence, or probation).

Alana Piper focused on the more anonymous decision-makers within trials – the jury. She questioned whether the increasingly common criticisms of juries expressed by members of the justice system across the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were justified. Trial by jury was often an unwieldy and less-than-ideal process: delivering verdicts encumbered by various biases and in other instances failing to deliver verdicts at all, with almost ten per cent of trials resulting in jury disagreements in some years.

Research Fellow Yorick Smaal considered the nature of legal evidence beyond the usual doctrinal endeavours. Focusing on witnesses in sex offence trials in Queensland from 1870 to 1930, Yorick found that despite an increase in the average number of witnesses per trial across the period, around half of the accused were consistently convicted regardless of the number of witnesses who testified against them. This suggests that quality rather than quantity of witnesses was important to trial outcomes. Nonetheless, a greater number of witnesses in trials involving female and child complainants points to disparities in moral surveillance, policing, and perceptions of complainants.

PhD scholar Robyn Blewer challenged the conventional view of objective and predictable judge craft. The digitised prosecution data facilitated an easy comparison of all known criminal cases presided over by two well-known Australian judges between 1925 and 1939 – Queensland’s Justice Brennan (352 cases) and Chief Justice Webb (234 cases). Even though media reports indicated that the two judges shared a progressive approach to sentencing, Robyn found that the judges handed down significantly different sentences. Brennan, for example, was far more likely to hand down non-custodial and alternative sentences (e.g. convicted but released).

Finally, Research Fellow Andy Kaladelfos explored sentencing patterns in more detail, focusing on the effect of victimisation on sentencing outcomes in sex offence trials. In particular, Andy was interested in the mid-20th century rise in non-custodial sentences, as this trend does not accord with historical scholarship that characterises the sex offence sentences in the period as punitive. Andy found that these non-custodial sentences were primarily used in cases involving adolescent female complainants and homosexual males – although why judges were more lenient in these cases is the topic of future qualitative work.

The digitisation of archival material clearly opens up new avenues for questions, analysis, and interpretation of crime and punishment across history. Of course, digital history is not just about big data. The conference also highlighted forays into digital history beyond such projects, for example, POWs during the South African Boer War (Chris Holdridge and Matthew Kennedy), digital matching of cross-Tasman convicts (Raewyn Dalziel), and digital (re)constructions of penal sites of significance such as Port Puer in Tasmania (Martin GibbsDavid RoeRichard Tuffin, and John Stephenson) and Bentham’s Panopticon (Zoe Alker and Nick Webb).

Importantly, digital history not only helps us come to new or richer understandings of crime and punishment, but it also permanently preserves a record of the past and makes history accessible to people who may never venture into an archive. Through the use of online open-source databases and new media, digital history can (re)introduce people to the story of their ancestors, their communities and countries, and, ultimately, humankind.

Lauren Vogel
The Prosecution Project, Griffith Criminology Institute

Digital Panopticon @ Digital Humanities Congress

The project team will be out in force at this year’s Digital Humanities Congress in Sheffield, part of an excellent programme of papers including text analytics from our neighbours at Linguistc DNA  and the Early Modern Intoxicants project, as well as a panel from another AHRC DIgital Transformations project, Transforming Musicology.

Keynote speakers: Professor Marilyn Deegan (King’s College London), Dr Stephen Gregg (Bath Spa University) and Dr Matthew Gold (City University of New York)

For a taste of what we’ll be up to:

Look forward to seeing you there!

Conference programme and Registration (deadline 24 August)

Financial Crime Conference, London, 2 September

We’re delighted to be involved with Financial Crime Symposium: past lessons, contemporary challenges, and future solutions which is being held at the London campus of the University of Liverpool on 2 September – registration is now open!

Fee is just £10 for students; the programme covers topics from the 18th century onwards and looks very appetising: financial_crime_programme_july_2016

Conference Notice: Juvenile Justice in Europe: Past, Present and Future

Juvenile Justice in Europe: Past, Present and Future

University of Liverpool, 26-27 May 2016

The conference/symposium is being organized and hosted by the International Criminological Research Unit (ICRU) at the University of Liverpool in association with the British Society of Criminology (Youth Criminology/Youth Justice Network – BSC YC/YJN) and the European Society of Criminology (Thematic Working Group on Juvenile Justice – ESC TWGJJ).

It will address a range of pressing questions relating to the historical origins, contemporary manifestations and future prospects for juvenile justice at a time when Europe is witnessing major social, economic and political challenges and transformations.

Past

2016 marks the 200th anniversary of the first major inquiry into ‘juvenile delinquency’. How has the history of juvenile justice evolved across Europe and how might the past help us to understand the present and signal the future?

Present

What do we know about contemporary juvenile crime trends in Europe and how are nation states responding? Is punitiveness and intolerance eclipsing child welfare and pedagogical imperatives, or is ‘child friendly justice’ holding firm? How might we best understand both the convergent and the divergent patterning of juvenile justice in a changing and reformulating Europe? What impacts are sweeping austerity measures, together with increasing mobilities and migrations, imposing?

Future?

What might the future hold for juvenile justice in Europe? How might researchers, policymakers and practitioners shape the future?

It is a crucial time for juvenile justice in Europe and the conference/symposium will comprise a series of plenary presentations delivered by some of Europe’s leading researchers in their respective fields. It will also facilitate ample opportunities for discussion, debate and delegate participation in order to address such questions alongside other past, present and future challenges.

Further details can be found here

UOL ICRUlogo,(3)-246x136 ESC,logo bsc_criminology-283x65

Building Bentham’s Panopticon

This post describes a project that myself and a colleague from the Architecture department at the University of Liverpool, Dr Nick Webb, are currently working on–Building Bentham’s Panopticon– which is creating a 3D model of the Panopticon prison viewed through virtual reality software, Oculus Rift.

 1787PANOPTICON

Bentham’s Panopticon was imagined as the ‘ideal’ prison; it was designed as a circular building with prisoners’ cells arranged around the outer wall and dominated by an inspection tower. From the tower the prison inspector would be able to gaze upon the prisoners at all times. The central inspection principle, Bentham argued, would result in ‘morals reformed, health preserved, industry invigorated, instruction diffused, public burdens lightened…all by a simple idea in architecture’ (Bentham, 1787).

Due to its escalating cost, his designs were never put in to practice. But the recent digitization of Bentham’s plans by Transcribe Bentham, alongside advances in virtual reality software, means that we now have the opportunity to digitally construct the Panopticon and venture inside.

PANOPTICON

This small element of the wider Digital Panopticon project seeks to explore how we can use digital technology to examine and recreate alternative ways of seeing and experiencing, in a particular space and place-the Panopticon prison- had it been built. Through the use of 3D modelling and virtual reality technology, we can recreate the perspective, positioning and movements- through sight lines, walking routes, and height and weight records- of the gaolers and prisoners who could have potentially been imprisoned within the walls of the Panopticon.

In doing so, this project takes its inspiration from Tim Hitchcock, who is currently modelling the Old Bailey courtroom, and contends that by, ‘building something in three dimensions, with space, physical form and performance, along with new forms of analysis of text; can change how we understand the experience of imprisonment; allow a more fully empathetic engagement with offenders; along with a better understanding of how their experience impacted on the exercise of power and authority’.[1]

Building Bentham’s Panopticon rests upon two lines of enquiry. Firstly, it seeks to rebuild and re-examine the idealized construction of prison discipline at its most ideological- to examine the beginning of the separate, silent system and the development of modern prison reform through architecture. But it also seeks to contribute to a history from below and examine how, by adding in height and weight records of offenders, we can rebuild the perspectives, movements, and thereby explore the potential for transgression that could have occurred within a prison like the Panopticon.

We are about halfway through our research, and are yet to add in biometric data of prisoners taken from the Digital Panopticon project. Yet, in building the model using SketchUp, we have already begun to discover important findings.

 methods_panopticon

The use of 3D modelling has been essential to visualising Bentham’s process and building the interior of the Panopticon. Bentham’s plans, letters and writings about the Panopticon represent a conversation- between himself, architects, managers, and politicians- that include a series of changes to the design of the building and its regime. We are very early on in our findings, but constructing the Panopticon using 3D software, SketchUp, has demonstrated the significance of using this technology to investigate different lines of historical enquiry. Bentham’s never completed the design for the Panopticon, and the debate continued from the 1780s to 1820s. However, plans exist from 1787 and 1791 and these designs are the source from which we have built the 3D models.  However, the interior was never fully decided upon due to conflicts between, amongst others, Bentham, John Howard, and William Pitt the Younger.[2]As Nick Webb has argued previously, ‘This is important, as inferences have to be made due to representational source data such as architectural drawings almost always being incomplete’.[3] Therefore, it is necessary to delve in to primary and secondary resources to explore the context, and fill in the gaps in an informed way. For example, Bentham initially wanted the Panopticon to be made out of glass and cast iron. ‘Architecturally’, according to Janet Semple, ‘the Panopticon foreshadows Paxton’s Crystal Palace rather than Pentonville’.[4] However, despite technological innovation in glass manufacture in the late eighteenth century, the building materials were never decided upon, so Nick and I decided to use London stock brick as this was the most commonly used material in London at the close of the eighteenth century.

Panopticon build

The models take the form of an idealised, architectural plan, and our current focus is to examine how a series of changes and compromises in the design, seen through the application of 3D modelling, demonstrate the political ideas behind the introduction of the separate, silent system and solitary confinement, but also the relative positions and viewpoints of the different historical actors, in this case, the gaoler, chaplain, and inmates.

Capture

What currently interests us at the moment is lines of vision and mobilities as, for Bentham and Foucault, panopticism as a principle is about the power of the gaze- of observation, regulation and power. But I would argue that Foucault and Bentham both had simplistic arguments when it comes to this aspect. In terms of sight lines, or what people can see when stood or walking through a particular point in space, this study builds upon the work of Philip Steadman (UCL). Steadman sketched out two dimensional axonometric drawings of the Panopticon, but with the use of 3D, we are able to build the interior of the Panopticon and therefore provide a space in which the viewer can walk around the prison and inhabit the potential routes of the gaolers, chaplain, and offenders. Steadman draws upon architectural research to plot the totality of what can be seen from a fixed position- also known as an ‘isovist’. (Steadman, 2012: 16).

STEADM

In Steadman’s image here, you’ll see that the shaded area shows the warder’s isovist. The warder must circulate continuously to watch all the prisoners on his floor. But Steadman’s method, while highlighting the problems in Bentham’s design, is set from a fixed point. Our study builds on this in two crucial ways: firstly, we are able, through the use of Oculus Rift and Virtual Reality Software, to recreate the viewpoints and sight perspective of the gaoler, chaplain, visitors, and offenders, and secondly, we are able to move beyond fixed isovist points to follow the potential mobilities of both gaoler and offender had they been incarcerated in the Panopticon.

  Off_Perspective_1791

So Bentham designed the process of observation to be one way; that is, that the governor, gaolers, other prison staff, and prison visitors to be able to observe the convicts, but that the convicts could only look upon the inspectors gallery. This was, in essence, the central inspection principle. The idea was that every prisoner should be under constant apprehension that he might be observed, night and day, even if no-one was actually looking in his direction at that very moment. He would thus be constantly fearful of being discovered in any misdemeanour.

Screen shot 2012-10-25 at 10.58.43

The Panopticon was a disciplinary technique for making a new social individual; a social laboratory where new subjects were made. Under Bentham’s design, the inmate doesn’t know when they are being watched, and assumes that they are under surveillance at any time. Therefore the prisoner is the subject of observation and power – and this is power through observation. By learning to internalize system of discipline, to watch himself or herself, the Panopticon, theoretically at least, aimed to produce reform through the regulation of the self. The aim of this kind of discipline was, according to Foucault, to turn inmates into quiet, orderly, tractable, malleable subjects or what he provocatively calls ‘Docile Bodies’. As Foucault stated, ‘solitude is the primary condition of total submission’ (Foucault, 1975: 237). Each individual, in his place, is securely confined to a cell from which he is seen from the front by the supervisor; but the side walls prevent him from coming into contact with his companions.

He is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication (Foucault, 1975: 201).The prisoner is therefore, the object of power rather than an agent of power – ‘the object of information’ – never a ‘subject in communication’.

 

And it is this very notion- the power of the gaze and the power relations that manifest through looking- that Building Bentham’s Panopticon seeks to investigate. The use of 3D and Virtual Reality technology, allows us to put Foucault’s theory, and Bentham’s designs, to the test.

 

NB Please note that the models are incomplete at present, so may contain errors and inconsistencies.

[1] T. Hitchcock, ‘Voices of Authority: Towards a history from below in patchwork’, https://www.digitalpanopticon.org/?cat=25 [Accessed 22 April 2016].

[2] J. Semple (1993), Bentham’s Prison: A Study of the Panopticon Penitentiary (Oxford University Press: Oxford).

[3]  N. Webb & A. Brown (2016). Digital re-analysis of lost architecture and the particular case of Lutyens׳ Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Frontiers of Architectural Research.

[4] J. Semple (1993), Bentham’s Prison: A Study of the Panopticon Penitentiary (Oxford University Press: Oxford), pp. 116-117.

CFP: Financial Crime Symposium: past lessons, contemporary challenges, and future solutions

A one-day conference in September which is being organised by Cerian Griffiths in conjunction with the Digital Panopticon project.

Date: 2nd September 2016 (deadline for abstracts: 30 June 2016)
Location: London Campus of the University of Liverpool

This one-day symposium will bring together academics, regulators, and legal practitioners to better understand the changing faces of financial crime and explore innovative approaches to tackling financial misconduct.

The symposium will focus upon a wide range of financial crimes and wider issues of financial practice that have come under public scrutiny in recent years. There shall be a particular focus upon historical financial crime, and the lessons which can be learned from the treatment of financial misconduct historically. Seldom do academics and practitioners have the opportunity to come together and discuss the issues surrounding financial crime in a wider historical context. This event provides a rare opportunity for discussion into the origins of financial crime and how these still impact upon the contemporary regulation and prosecution of financial crime.

Contributions are welcome from regulators, legal practitioners and academics from across disciplines. Papers on the following themes would be particularly welcome:

  • Financial crime and the 19th century development of the company
  • Victims of financial crime
  • The relationship between financial crime and financial misconduct
  • Regulators of financial crime
  • Financial crime and globalisation
  • Financial crime and moral economy
  • Problems facing the prosecution of financial crime
  • Modern variations of financial crime

Papers that focus upon either historical and/or contemporary analyses are welcome, particularly those that draw parallels between historical and modern-day themes.

Abstracts of no more than 200 words should be sent to c.griffiths@liverpool.ac.uk by 30 June 2016.

Conference website