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Family History Workshop session 2: Criminal ancestors and the politics of justice

Venue: Online

Almost every historical family has members who have been labelled as criminals. But what does this mean? How common was it for people to become lawbreakers in different times and places, and what were the consequences? What was the experience of arrest, trial, and punishment for criminals and their families, from capital and corporal punishment, transportation and prison, fines and rehabilitation? This session will also explore what it means and how it feels to have criminal ancestors.


3:30-4:15 Reflections from the field

• Heather Shore and Helen Johnson, on the Our Criminal Ancestors Project

• Cynthia Brown, Convict Ancestors, Celebration, and Shame

• Julia Laite, Sexual crimes and very difficult family histories

• Group discussion/Q&A

4:15-4:30 Break

4:30-5:30 Breakout room workshops

1. Are there some crimes that don’t bother us, and others that do? How do we frame and reframe stories of criminality in our families?

2. What do we do when we uncover dark family stories of abuse and violence?

3. How do we understand lawbreakers in our family’s past, and how can that help us understand them in families present?

5:30-5:45 Closing remarks and guidance for mini-blogs and discussion forum.

Report back on a twitter hour or asynchronous forum; Mini blogs on website.


The event is free but booking essential. Book your place here: 



This event is organised by the Raphael Samuel History Centre and is associated with the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology's Discover the Past events series, open to the public and students. To see the full list of events, visit the Discover the Past web page

The Raphael Samuel History Centre is a research and educational centre devoted to encouraging the widest possible participation in historical research and debate. It has a large programme of research, teaching, and public events and works with universities, museums, libraries, and schools, to create new forums for historical education and discussion. 

The Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck has a distinguished tradition as an international centre of excellence. We are the only university department in London to include archaeologists, classicists and historians investigating every period from prehistory to the early twenty-first century. Join us to discover the past and engage with the present across continents and cultures.


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