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Professor Rosalind Crone

Profile summary

Professional biography

I joined the History Department at the Open University in 2009 after three years in the neighbouring English department as a research fellow on an AHRC-funded project, The Reading Experience Database (1450-1945). Before that, I completed my BA (Hons) at the University of Queensland in Australia, and was awarded an MPhil and PhD in history from St John’s College, University of Cambridge. I have also taught modern British social and cultural history at the University of Cambridge.

At the Open University, I am director of the Centre for the History of Crime, Policing and Justice, located in the History Department, a member of the Book History Research Group based in the English Department, and also an affiliated member of the Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. I also remain a member of the project team for the Reading Experience Database.

Outside of the OU, I am a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. I am also, together with Prof Heather Shore at Manchester Metropolitan University, editor of a new monograph series published by McGill-Queen's University Press: States, People and the History of Social Change.


Research interests

Broadly speaking, my research interests lie in a 'long' nineteenth century, c1780-c1914. More specifically, I am interested in the society and culture of nineteenth-century Britain, and particularly themes such as criminal justice, popular culture, education and reading practices.

I welcome PhD proposals on these themes but also on other social and cultural topics in the period of the nineteenth century. Recent and current PhD students have worked on a range of projects including policing in nineteenth-century Leeds, representations of crime in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century press, unreasonable marital behaviours in Victorian Glasgow, sexual violence by men towards men, and pupil rebellions in public schools between the late eighteenth and mid nineteenth centuries.

At present, I am completing research in three areas:

 Educating Criminals

While working as a research fellow on the Reading Experience Database, I began a new research project combining my continuing interests in crime and working-class culture with a developing interest in the history of reading. For several years, I have been working on the general theme of educating criminals in nineteenth-century England. I am interested in both the acquisition of elementary skills by criminals outside and within the prison walls, and also in the transmission of illicit types of knowledge, for example, skills in the commission of crime.

I have completed a number of articles and chapters on the literacy rates of prisoners and educational programmes designed to reform offenders, and I am also working on a full-length book treatment of this subject. In April 2012, I was awarded a small grant from the Marc Fitch Fund to use surviving prison records from Suffolk to map the educational experiences of the poor in that county for the seventy years or so prior to the 1870 Education Act. This research was published as an article in Social History in 2018 (and you can read a blog post about the article here).

In March 2014, I was awarded an AHRC Early Career Fellowship to complete the research for my book on nineteenth-century prison education. Illiterate Inmates: Educating Criminals in Nineteenth-Century England was published by Oxford University Press in May 2022 (for more details, follow this link).

In 2018 I launched a new resource, Prison History, which makes datasets originally arising from my research on the nineteenth-century prison freely available to other scholars and members of the public in order to expand our understanding of the use and experience of imprisonment in the past. Prison History currently hosts 19th Century Prisons, a database of 846 convict and local prisons operational in England between 1800-99, and Local Lock-Ups, a database of more than 900 structures used for temporary confinement by local communities between c.1500 and the 20th century. Prison History has featured in the genealogical magazine, Who Do You Think You Are, including as one of the 'Websites to Watch in 2020'.

In August 2019, I was awarded an AHRC Follow on Funding grant to work in partnership with Prisoners' Education Trust and former prisoners to transform the research completed for my monograph, Illiterate Inmates, into a free, Badged Open Course on the history of prison education in the UK. The course will be available to students in secure environments, to prison staff and those working in the criminal justice sector, and to anyone with an interest in the history of prisons in early 2022 on The OU's free learning platform, Open Learn.

Violent Entertainments

In 2012 I  completed a monograph derived from my doctoral research on violent entertainments in nineteenth-century London: Violent Victorians: Popular Entertainment in Nineteenth-Century London (Manchester University Press). This book is the first full-length study to address the wide range of gruesome, bloody and confronting amusements and pastimes, patronised by large numbers of ordinary Londoners, that did not conform to the values of respectability and restraint which we so often claim characterised Victorian culture. While pastimes involving displays of actual violence were brought under control during the early-nineteenth century, graphic, yet orderly, ‘re-enactments’ of high-level violence flourished in street or travelling entertainments, penny broadsides, popular theatres, cheap instalment fiction and Sunday newspapers. By examining these predominantly new amusements in detail, this book explores the ways in which gruesome, bloodthirsty and violent representations provided an outlet, indeed siphoned off, much of the actual violence that had hitherto been expressed in all manner of social and political dealings, thus providing a crucial accompaniment to schemes for the reformation of manners and the taming of the streets, while providing a mechanism through which the common people could ‘protest’ against the values of the establishment.

More recently, I combined my interests in popular entertainment and policing to produce a collection of documents for the Pickering & Chatto series, The Making of the Modern Police, edited by my colleague in the history department, Paul Lawrence. My volume, Policing Entertainment (volume 4) was published in autumn 2014. The 6 volume collection has since been reviewed by the Times Literary Supplement (13 March 2015).

Click here to find out more about Violent Victorians.
The book has been reviewed in the following journals:
Journal of Victorian Culture, June 5, 2012
IHR Reviews in History, June 2012
BBC History Magazine, August 2012
The London Journal, vol 37, November 2012
Times Literary Supplement, 25 January 2013
Urban History, vol 40, February 2013
New Theatre Quarterly, vol 29, February 2013
The Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol 59 (3), 2013
Victorian Studies, vol 57, Summer 2015

International Histories of Reading

Between March 2010 and February 2011, I was a Co-I on the AHRC project, ‘Developing an International Digital Network in the History of Reading’ with colleagues in the English department – W.R. Owens and Shafquat Towheed. During this period, the Reading Experience Database (RED) was subjected to major redevelopment: the UK RED website was enhanced, by adding new teaching tools and improving its functionality, in preparation for distribution to colleagues in Australia (Griffith University, Brisbane), Canada (Dalhousie University, Halifax), the Netherlands (Universiteit Utrecht) and New Zealand (Victoria University of Wellington) to allow the creation of other national REDs; and work began on a new international portal housed on the Open University web space to allow simultaneous searching of national REDs in particular fields. For more information, see the RED website.



A full list of my academic publications can be found by clicking on the 'Publications' tab above.

Some additional publications aimed at wider audiences which are related to my research interests above include:

'Stuck in the Victorian past', Inside Times, 22 September 2022. Read this online.

'Focus on: Prison Records', Who Do You Think You Are Magazine, November 2021, pp. 63-67.

'Dickens: Social Crusader', BBC History Magazine, July 2020, pp. 54-59.

'Record Masterclass: Prison Registers', Who Do You Think You Are Magazine, September 2019, pp. 54-56.

'Silence and Separation', Who Do You Think You Are Magazine, Summer 2019, pp. 70-74.

Guide to the Criminal Prisons of 19th Century England (e-book, 2018). Download here.

'Educating Criminals; or, Where did the 19th-century prisoner go to school?', Social History Blog, April 2018. Read this online.

'Elizabeth Fry: The Great Reformer', BBC History Magazine, May 2017, pp. 44-47. Read this online.

'The People on the Notes: Elizabeth Fry', OpenLearn, February 2017. Read this online.

'Think entertainment is violent today? The Victorians were much, much worse', The Conversation, 13 October 2016 Read this online.

'Great Expectations: The role of education in penal reform', History & Policy, 27 May 2016. Read this online.

'Was Victorian life really so grim?', BBC History Magazine, Christmas 2015, pp. 50-56. Read this online.

'Jack the Ripper, a women's history museum and London's fascination with all things gory', The Conversation, 31 July 2015 Read this online.

'New evidence points to old Jack the Ripper suspect - but here is why I'm not convinced', The Conversation, 10 Sept 2014 Read this online.

‘ “Life after death”: Legacies of executed criminals in the nineteenth century’, Curator’s Choice: Selections from the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera (2011) Read this online.

‘Reading (in) the Past, 1450-1945’, English Review (Oct 2009), pp. 24-26.

‘Crime reporting in the nineteenth-century newspaper’, British Library 19th Century Newspapers (British Library, 2009).

‘The Common Reader’, History Today (January 2008), pp. 42-43.

Entries on ‘the popular press’, ‘class and the press’, ‘the Penny Sunday Times and People’s Police Gazette’, ‘the Calendar of Horrors’, ‘Thomas Catling’ and ‘George Purkess’ for the Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Journalism, eds. Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor (British Library & ProQuest, 2008).


I have been interviewed or served as a consultant for a number of television and radio programmes related to my research interests, including on local radio stations (BBC Somerset, BBC Bristol, etc), The Forum (BBC World Service, October 2020) Who Do You Think You Are (Wall to Wall/ BBC One, August 2019), Classified Britain (Radio 4/ Loftus Media, May 2018), Inside... The Old Bailey (Channel 5, 2017), A Very British Murder (BBC4, September 2013), Food: A Scandalous History (Radio 4/ Just Radio, May 2013), Great British Bake-Off (BBC1/ Love Productions, August 2013), Mister Punch (CBC/Battery Radio, May 2012), Sweeney Todd (supplementary materials for the DVD of Tim Burton's film, May 2008).

In June 2021, I was interviewed for a BBC History Extra podcast, 'British Prisons: Everything you wanted to know', available here.

In April 2022, I was interviewed by Dallas Campbell for his History Hit series, Patented: History of Inventions, on the history of the penal treadmill, available here.

During 2021-22, I served as historical consultant (and resident historian!) for a BBC Radio 4 series, Lady Killers with Lucy Worsley, which looks at living and killing by women in 19th century Britain and North America. The full series (10 episodes) is available on BBC Sounds and on Apple Podcasts from 25 April 2022.



Teaching interests

Since joining the department I have contributed to a number of teaching modules. Between 2010 and 2013 I was chair of AA312 Total War and Social Change: Europe, 1914-1955 and also of its associated residential school. I wrote several units for its successor module, A327 Europe 1914-1989: War, Peace, Modernity, and in 2012 and 2013 served as co-chair during its production. From 2009 I have been a member of the module team for A825/6 MA in History which is primarily concerned with the local and regional history of the British Isles between 1750 and 1950. I am currently chairing the production of the new MA in history, which is due to be launched in 2022. 


Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Book History and Bibliography Research GroupGroupFaculty of Arts
International Centre for Comparative Criminological Research (ICCCR)CentreFaculty of Social Sciences
International Centre for the History of Crime, Policing and JusticeCentreFaculty of Arts


Externally funded projects

History Of The Prison Module [Prison History for New Learners Inside and Outside the Prison]
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead31 Aug 201928 Feb 2022AHRC Arts & Humanities Research Council

The last five years have seen the emergence of a number of new schemes to bring higher education into prisons. Programmes such as 'Inside Out' and 'Learn Together' are based on a philosophy of co-teaching enrolled university students alongside prisoners. In 2017, Prisoners' Education Trust formed the PUPiL (Prison University Partnerships in Learning) network in order to support and develop these initiatives. Within the PUPiL network there is no history module being offered at present. This is in spite of the significant interest among prisoners in history. The value of history as a tool for citizenship development, especially re-engagement and re-enfranchisement of individuals and communities. Furthermore, the large number of courses being offered in criminology, sociology, social policy and law, shows the further interest of prisoners in subjects that touch on their own experiences. This project - in collaboration with PET and drawing on the experience of the OU in the creation of high quality teaching materials - to develop a new module on the history of the prison which would be packaged in such a way that it could be taught by current PUPiL partners. The module will have a special focus on the history of prison education, again because this draws on prisoners' own experiences, but also as a way to celebrate the joint anniversaries of the OU (50) and PET (30) in 2019. Within the package of materials provided to PUPiL partners will be a range of information boards and high quality copies of archival documents and artefacts to enable students to curate an exhibition on the history of prison education for their end of course assessment.