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Serial Killers and Moral Panics

Moral panics, supported by sensational headlines and exacerbated fears about personal safety regularly sweep the nation. How can we explain the 'moral panics' invoked by violent crimes in Victorian Britain, and were the public right to be afraid?

Additional intro material:

ARTICLE: Leslie McCurty and Adam Fowler, 'Penny dreadfuls were the true crime podcasts of their time', The Conversation (2020).

Essential seminar reading:



  • Rosalind Crone, ‘From Sawney Beane to Sweeney Todd: Murder machines in the mid-nineteenth century metropolis’, Cultural & Social History, 7 (2010), pp. 59-85.
  • Gary Moses, 'Religion, Rural Society, and Moral Panic in Mid-Victorian England' in Criminal Conversations ed. by Judith Walkowitz (2005)
  • Robin J. Barrow, 'Rape on the Railway: Women, Safety, and Moral Panic in Victorian Newspapers', Journal of Victorian Culture (2015)

Seminar prep questions:

  • What light do case studies of serial killers shed on growing social, racial and gender anxieties in Victorian London?
  • Explain rural and urban differences in moral panics
  • How are violent crimes, including garrotting and sexual violence treated by the Victorian press?

Further reading:


  • John E Archer, 'Poaching gangs and violence: the urban-rural divide in nineteenth-century Lancashire', British Journal of Criminology, 39 (1999)
  • Jan Bonderson, ‘Monsters and moral panic in London’, History Today, 2001
  • B J Davey, Lawless and Immoral: Policing a County Town
  • Jennifer Davis, 'The London garrotting panic of 1862', in V Gattrell, B Lenman and G Parker, Crime and the Law
  • Lisa Downing, The Subject of Murder: Gender, Exceptionality and the Modern Killer
  • Peter Fisher, An Illustrated Guide to Jack the Ripper
  • Drew Gray, Londons Shadows: The Dark Side of the Victorian City (esp chapter 7)
  • Carl Griffin, 'The mystery of the fires: Captain Swing as Incendiarist', Southern History, 32 (2010)
  • Carl Griffin, 'The violent Captain Swing', Past and Present, 209 (2010)
  • Eric Hobsbawm, 'The Machine breakers', Past and Present, 1 (1952)
  • Eric Hobsbawm and George Rude, Captain Swing
  • David Jones, Crime, Protest, Community and Police
  • Katrina Navickas, 'Luddism, Incendiarism and the defence of rural "task-scapes" in 1812', Northern History, 48 (2011)
  • David Lemmings and Claire Walker, Moral Panics, the Media and the Law in Early Modern England (esp article by McCreery)
  • Jane Monckton Smith, Relating Rape and Murder: Narratives of Sex, Death and Gender
  • Harvey Osborne and Michael Winstanley, 'Rural and urban poaching in Victorian England', Rural History, 17 (2006)
  • Neil Pemberton, ''Bloodhounds as Detectives' : Dogs, Slum Stench and Late-Victorian Murder Investigation', Cultural and Social History, 2013
  • Nicholas Rance, ‘Jonathan’s great knife: Dracula meets Jack the Ripper’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 2002
  • Judith Rowbotham and Kim Stevenson (eds.) Behaving Badly: Moral Panic and Social Outrage (2003)
  • D Rubinstein, ‘The hunt for Jack the Ripper’, History Today, 2000
  • Donald Rumbelow, The Complete Jack the Ripper
  • Lisa Tickner, Walter Sickert, the Camden Town Murder and Tabloid Crime
  • Alexandra Warwick and Martin Willis, Jack the Ripper: media, culture, history
  • Judith Walkowitz, ‘Jack the Ripper and the myth of male violence’, Feminist Studies, 1982
  • Judith Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight
  • Alexandra Warwick, 'The Scene of the Crime: Inventing the Serial Killer', Social and Legal Studies, 2006
  • Richard Ward, 'Print culture, moral panic and the administration of the law: the London crime wave of 1744', Crime, History and Society, 16 (2012)
  • R A E Wells, 'Sheep-rustling in Yorkshire in the age of the industrial and agricultural revolutions', Northern History, 20 (1984)