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  SACI0012 (MRes) Exploring the History and Cultural Representation of Capital Punishment in Scotland

   School of Arts and Creative Industries

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  Prof A Schwan, Dr K Morrison  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

This MA studentship (fees-only award) allows the successful candidate to conduct a full-time Masters by Research on the history and representation of capital punishment in Edinburgh and Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The project will examine historical and contemporary literary and cultural representations of both the death penalty and sites of public executions. Through innovative interdisciplinary research, the study will explore archival sources and nineteenth-century media to assess how such punishment was depicted historically while also interrogating the presence (or absence) of capital punishment in the collective cultural memory today, including a critical analysis of existing walking tours in the capital that take in sites of crime and punishment.

The starting point for the research will be the National Library of Scotland’s (NLS) crime and executions broadsides and chapbooks- cheap texts that formed a subcategory of street literature and functioned as a forerunner of the popular press; they were consumed by large audiences at the time but are now only available in special collections. The NLS has already made some of its broadsides available online, with further digitisation planned over the coming year. Regardless of digitisation, the candidate will be able to access original versions of these ephemeral texts in the library’s special collections. The project entails visits to other, smaller libraries in different parts of Scotland as well as major research libraries such as the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, to produce a comprehensive picture of the literary-cultural responses to public executions.

Such examples of popular street literature will be read and assessed against other historical accounts, including legal, religious or reformist writings, newspaper reports and/or the National Records of Scotland, to interrogate street literature’s historical accuracy alongside the rhetorical and aesthetic strategies used in such texts to respond to crime and punishment. The project will explore to what extent such texts gave voice to the condemned - typically in the form of the broadsides’ ’last lamentations’ - victims, families and the wider community while dealing with larger social issues including gender and class relations, religion and the administration of law and punishment.

For the purpose of engaging contemporary audiences in the moral and ethical debates about capital punishment, the MRes project will also include analysis of questionnaire responses from audience members participating in a ’pop up’ event at NLS, involving academic speakers and displays of selected broadsides and chapbooks that will invite the audience to reflect on these texts. This event and materials will be prepared by the MRes candidate on the basis of their initial research findings, supported by the supervisors and staff at the NLS.

The research methodology will primary consist of archival research and textual analysis, framed by relevant theoretical approaches in literary and cultural studies, and criminology. The project’s overarching objective is to contribute to a deeper understanding of how capital punishment was perceived and responded to historically, with a view to using this historical research as a starting point for stimulating debate about criminal punishment among contemporary audiences - a topic which remains an emotive public issue.
Professor Anne Schwan (English) has expertise in the history and literature of crime and punishment, with particular focus on the nineteenth century. Dr Katrina Morrison (Criminology) brings expertise in relevant sociological and criminological theories, and crime and punishment in the Scottish context.

Academic qualifications:
A first degree (at least a 2.1) ideally in English Studies, History, Criminology or a cognate discipline with a good fundamental knowledge of the history, literature and theory of crime and punishment.
English language requirement
IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not Jess than 6.0 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s policy are available online.

Essential attributes:
• Experience of fundamental studies in literature, culture, history and/or criminological questions
• Competent in textual analysis and use of theoretical frameworks
• Knowledge of the literary, cultural and historical contexts of the period in question
• Good written and oral communication skills
• Strong motivation, with evidence of independent research skills relevant to the project
• Good time management

Desirable attributes:
Experience in curation and/or engagement of contemporary audiences
Experience in interdisciplinary research

Funding Notes

This is a fees only funded MRes place.


Bennett, Rachel E. Capital Punishment and the Criminal Corpse in Scotland,
1740-1834 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

Carrabine, Eamonn. 'The Iconography of Punishment: Execution Prints and the Death Penalty', Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 50.5 (2011), 452-64.

Gatrell, V. A. C. The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994).

Schwan, Anne. '"Shame, You Are not Going to Hang Me!"': Women's Voices in Nineteenth-Century Street Literature', in Convict Voices: Women, Class, and Writing About Prison in Nineteenth-Century England {Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire Press, 2014), pp. 20-40.