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HIS3336 : Punishing the Criminal Dead: Crime, Culture, and Corpses in Modern Britain

  • Offered for Year: 2019/20
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Shane McCorristine
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


Histories of crime and criminals traditionally stop after execution. This ignores a range of sources and debates looking at where criminal corpses went if they were denied burial as a further punishment. This module looks at the history of post-mortem punishment in Britain, c.1752-1900, focusing on the journeys of the bodies of convicted criminals from courtrooms, to scaffolds, and then (after death) on to hospitals, dissection rooms, museums, and private collections. Starting with the Murder Act of 1752, we will examine how the notorious bodies and body parts of the criminal dead became part of a disturbing and frequently illegal corpse trade that drew together the judiciary, executioners, medical professionals, and workhouse officials. This subject matters because it continues to inform the modern organ/corpse trade as well as the ethics of using corpses for medical knowledge/experimentation. Students will be asked to frame these practices in the context of Elias’s “civilising process” thesis. This module will place an emphasis on the wide and rich variety of primary sources about the criminal dead, including court records, folklore and superstition, images, ballads, and material/medical collections.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module will move from cultural and medical history to the history of crime and punishment. Topics covered will include: The power of the criminal corpse in the medieval imagination; Early modern execution practices; Murder, law, and spectacle; Death and dissection; Bodysnatching and the illegal corpse trade; Death and poverty: the workhouse and medical knowledge; Gibbets and the criminal landscape; Dismemberment and commodity culture: the criminal corpse in pieces; The magical criminal corpse; Can you medically harm a dead person?: ethics and personhood; When is death?: social, medical, and legal interpretations;

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion541:0054:001/3 of guided independent study
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading551:0055:001/3 guided independent study
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching113:0033:00Seminar
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery13:003:00Coursework Surgery Time
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study551:0055:001/3 of guided independent study
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

As a special subject, aside from an in-depth understanding of the content of the module, the teaching methods, which focus on small group work, independent research and writing, relate to the core learning outcomes of supporting students in developing research skills across a wide range of sources, being able to synthesise the information they collect and form convincing and coherent arguments.

Independent learning is essential to this module: students are expected to develop skills of source evaluation, critical reading and note-taking in an independent and effective manner. Seminar teaching complements these skills by allowing students the opportunity to share and debate information gathered independently. Oral skills of argument and presentation will be developed. Moreover, a significant part of seminar teaching will test the development of primary source analysis.

Small group teaching will allow the students to explore ideas and patterns together in a structured way, and great emphasis will be placed on primary sources and their interpretation.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination1202A55N/A
Oral Presentation52M10To be done in house
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M35Essay (2000 words – including footnotes, excluding bibliography)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The exam will test students ability to acquire a general knowledge of the subject and the ability to focus this knowledge swiftly and succinctly. Exams also assess the ability to problem solve and communicate ideas and arguments in a clear manner.

The essay will test ability to research, develop, and communicate an argument about a particular subject. This calls for both general knowledge and a detailed understanding of sources relating to the course topics.

An oral presentation will encourage the students to develop, and to test, skills that will be invaluable when it comes to applying for and engaging in a career.

Participating in seminars encourages students to engage with the material, the lecturer, and the group to outline thoughts, concerns, and problems. The addition of a participation component mark is designed to incentivise students to do all the reading and come to seminars prepared to talk and engage with the material.

This module can be made available to Erasmus students only with the agreement of the Head of Subject and of the Module Leader. This option must be discussed in person at the beginning of your exchange period. No restrictions apply to study-abroad, exchange and Loyola students.
All Erasmus students at Newcastle University are expected to do the same assessment as students registered for a degree.
Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. This will take the form of an alternative assessment, as outlined in the formats below:

Modules assessed by Coursework and Exam:
The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be one essay in addition to the other coursework assessment (the length of the essay should be adjusted in order to comply with the assessment tariff); to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Modules assessed by Exam only:
The normal alternative form of assessment for all semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be two 2,000 word written exercises; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Modules assessed by Coursework only:
All semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be expected to complete the standard assessment for the module; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending the whole academic year or semester 2 are required to complete the standard assessment as set out in the MOF under all circumstances.

Reading Lists