The Digital Panopticon and GCSE History

Jean Jacques de Boisseau, 'The School Master' (1780). Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A key theme often addressed by GCSE modules is the changing purpose of punishment in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Students need to comprehend the shifting roles played by execution, transportation and imprisonment in the UK legal system. The WJEC Eduqas syllabus expects students to complete a site-specific case study of crime in the East End of London (assessment years 2018 and 2019) or the settlement of convicts in New South Wales (assessment years 2020 and 2021). This page highlights some of the Digital Panopticon website resources that can help meet these educational needs.

Student Engagement

In addition to the broad learning objectives, described in The Digital Panopticon for Schools, the Digital Panopticon is ideally placed to support specific learning outcomes in "Crime and Punishment" as an established area of GCSE study. A wide range of UK GCSE modules complement the historical themes explored by the Digital Panopticon website, including:

Classroom Activity: 'How did the most Common Forms of Punishment Change over Time?'

Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827). 'Arrest of a Woman at Night'. The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Teachers can use the Digital Panopticon visualisation, 'How did the most common criminal sentences change over time?' and historical background page on 'Punishments, 1780-1925', to lead a session on how patterns of punishment sentences in London changed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Teachers can use this visualisation to select key historical dates in UK crime and punishment legislation and then assess with students the impact of this legislation on the forms of punishment sentences received by offenders. Key dates and events which impacted on sentencing patterns in this period include:

If the visualisation is used to contrast two periods of approximately fifty years, such as 1780-1829 and 1860-1909, it should be effective in demonstrating to students shifts in punishment sentences during this period, such as the transformation from an emphasis on transportation to the predominance of imprisonment by the beginning of the twentieth century.

Please note that the data for this visualisation is derived from the sentences handed out by the judges at the Old Bailey. The actual punishments convicts received often differed from those originally prescribed.

Historical Case Study: Crime in London's East End in the Late Nineteenth Century

If students need to construct a case study of crime in London's East End in the late nineteenth century, the following Digital Panopticon resources will be useful.

Most of the Digital Panopticon historical background pages provide information about the history of London. The historical background page on 'London, 1780-1900' is particularly pertinent.

Convict lives that students might wish to explore include Benjamin Barrett and Emily Gilard.

A visualisation that can be discussed and analysed as part of researching this topic is: 'Where were most crimes committed in the Old Bailey?'

Suggested classroom activity: Imagine you are Benjamin Barrett or Emily Gilard and you are telling your life story to a friend. What would you say about the social, economic and political conditions of your life in London? What would you say about your experiences of committing crimes and being punished for your offences?

Students can discuss their responses to these questions in groups or answer them as an individual written response.

Historical Case Study: Convicts in New South Wales in the Late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

If students need to construct a case study of Botany Bay and the settlement of convicts in New South Wales in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the following Digital Panopticon resources will be useful:

The historical background pages on 'Australia, 1787-1901' and 'Transportation'.

Convict lives that students might want to explore include: James Gardner, William Bright and George Viginton, James Joiner, Elizabeth Jones, Mark Jeffery, George Lincoln, James McAllister and Charlotte Walker.

Visualisations that can be discussed and analysed as part of researching this topic are: What ages were most commonly recorded when convicts arrived at the colony? and/or What religions were most commonly recorded when convicts arrived at the colony?

Suggested classroom activity: Imagine you are one of the transported convicts listed above and you are telling your life story to a friend. What would you say about the social, economic and political conditions of your life in Australia? What would you say about your experiences of committing crimes and being punished for your offences?

Students can discuss their responses to these questions in groups or answer them as an individual written response.

Criminal Lives, 1780-1925’ – Schools Pop-up Exhibition and Education Pack

Photograph of Frederick Richardson. The National Archives UK ref. PCOM2/291/417

To provide a discussion point and a series of activities to meet these educational needs, the Digital Panopticon team have developed a ‘Criminal Lives, 1780-1925’ pop-up banner exhibition and education pack for schools.

‘Criminal Lives, 1780-1925’ is an eight panel pop-up banner exhibition that uses historical images and archival documents to explore eight convict lives from the Digital Panopticon Archive. Brief biographies of Frederick Richardson, John Ebenezer Martin, Lydia Lloyd and Sarah Durrant are presented to explore the impact of UK imprisonment, while the lives of Charlotte Walker, Isaac Solomons, Thomas Griffin and Thomas Limpus are offered to consider the life pathways of convicts who were transported to Australia. Each of these lives can be further explored on the Digital Panopticon website.

The exhibition comes with an Education Pack for Teachers. This pack includes a historical timeline, summaries of key exhibition themes, suggested activities for students and a further reading list.

The schools pop-up exhibition will be available from May 2018, following its inclusion in Criminal Lives, 1780-1925: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives (11 December 2017 – 16 May 2018). From this date, teachers will be able to download the accompanying education pack here.

Teachers can start booking the exhibition for their school or venue from September 2017 for use after May 2018. The exhibition is free to hire, but there may be delivery costs. We envisage exhibition runs of between one and two weeks. However, we are willing to consider alternative timeframes. Please let us know your proposed exhibition dates and we will try and accommodate them.

If you would like to host the exhibition at your school, please contact Linda Billam: l.billam@sheffield.ac.uk

Other Resources

Teachers on these GCSE courses might also find the education pages that are available on The Old Bailey Online helpful. Although somewhat out of date, the Old Bailey website contains a range of information pages and suggested educational resources for GCSE teaching and learning about patterns of eighteenth and nineteenth century crime and punishment in Britain. Educational resources on 'Crime and Punishment' and 'A Victorian Prison' are also available from The National Archives website.

Author Credits

This page was written by Larissa Allwork, with additional contributions by other members of the Digital Panopticon project team.