Two University of New England (UNE) historians will help build Australia’s first repository of historical criminal justice data to safeguard knowledge and benefit future research.
The project, led by Griffith University, is Australia’s largest ‘digital humanities’ collaboration by scholars from eight Australian universities as well as from the University of Liverpool and University College London, funded by the Australian Government’s Research Data Commons Scheme.
The project will provide Australian scholars with access to multi-jurisdictional and large-scale longitudinal data that can help address fundamental questions around Australia’s criminal justice history.
Project contributor Associate Professor David Andrew Roberts, UNE History, says it will be an essential resource for encouraging original research in the field.
“This repository will be the largest and most complete national dataset pertaining to crime and law in Australia, allowing future researchers to seek patterns, trends and associations across a great range of topics and issues over an extended period of time,” he says.
The project will consolidate data from many important projects around the country to facilitate new insights and research findings.
“Recent individual research projects uncovering Australia’s records of crime and punishment – including notable research by UNE researchers Dr Matthew Allen, UNE Criminology and UNE History, and Professor Martin Gibbs, UNE Archaeology – are changing our understanding of historical crime and punishment processes: from the extent and severity of flogging in the convict era, to the living conditions of convicts in Port Arthur, to the informality and confusion we can now see in colonial legal practice,” A/Prof Roberts says.
“A national repository of all these individual datasets will enable researchers to provide important original perspectives on the past and on the changing nature of crime and law in Australian history.”
A/Prof David Andrew Roberts and Dr Matthew Allen will be able to particularly contribute the in-depth data they’ve amassed relating to the customs and sentencing patterns of NSW courts in the first few decades of NSW’s colonial past. Dr Allen says this will be an essential contribution to the national repository.
“By specialising in the formative decades of British settlement in NSW, we will be able to help ensure the data in the repository dates back to the arrival of the ‘First Fleet’ in 1788 and that it covers some of the most important foundational issues in Australian law and justice,” Dr Allen says.
“The convicts sent to the Australian colonies were among the best documented citizens of the British Empire – their appearance, their labour, their movements and their behaviour were meticulously documented by the authorities. The bureaucratic infrastructure of convict management provides a goldmine of data for historians.”
A/Prof Roberts and Dr Allen will collaborate with the project leader, Professor Mark Finnane of the Griffith Criminology Institute, to contribute their data into this important and expanding database, where it will be available for future historians.
The database will be held in the Australian Data Archive, maintained by the Australian National University’s Centre for Social Research and Methods.
Image: Dr Matthew Allen and Associate Professor David Andrew Roberts.