Robert Shoemaker

Professor of 18th-Century British History, University of Sheffield

Robert Shoemaker is Professor of 18th-Century British history. His main interests lie in social and cultural history, particularly urban history, gender history, and the history of crime, justice and punishment, and in the use of digital technologies in historical research.

His first book, Prosecution and Punishment: Petty Crime and the Law in London and Rural Middlesex, ca. 1660-1725, (1991) examined the social impact of the prosecution of petty crime in London. Combining his interests on gender and crime, he subsequently wrote articles on masculinity and violence, public defamation, and public punishments, focusing particularly on eighteenth-century London. These articles led to the publication of The London Mob: Violence and Disorder in 18th-Century England (Hambledon and London, 2004), which charts the changing nature of public conflict in eighteenth-century London, focusing on street life, litigation, and the press.

He is co-director, with Professor Tim Hitchcock at the University of Hertfordshire and Professor Clive Emsley of the Open University, of the Old Bailey Proceedings Online, which created a fully searchable edition of the entire run of published accounts of trials which took place at the Old Bailey from 1674 to 1913, and, with Hitchcock, London Lives, 1690-1800: Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis, a fully searchable edition of 240,000 manuscript records and fifteen datasets which makes it possible to compile biographies of eighteenth-century Londoners. Using material from this resource, he and Hitchcock published a monograph, London Lives: Poverty, Crime and the Making of a Modern City, 1690-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Shoemaker’s recent research interests include how knowledge about crime was created in 18th and 19th-century London. Through analysis of the literature of crime and by examining evidence of its reception in private correspondence and diaries, he has examined how the explosion of print culture shaped public attitudes towards crime.

He is currently working on two digital projects. He is co-investigator on the ESRC prject, Victims’ Access to Justice through English Criminal Courts, 1675 to the present, which is examining the changing combination of rights, resources and responsibilities accorded to victims of crime in England over three centuries. He is overseeing the creation and analysis of a new database of victims of crime at the Old Bailey derived from the Old Bailey Proceedings, and is researching the increasing role of legal counsel and the police in managing prosecutions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

He is principal investigator of a British Academy funded Digital Research Grant, Analysing Criminal Tattoos through Data Mining and Visualisation, which has extracted 76,000 descriptions of tattooed convicts from the Digital Panopticon database, and is using visualisations to identify key patterns in this richly detailed data over the period 1791-1925 and ascertain the changing meaning and significance of tattooing in English society.


  • –present
    Professor of Eighteenth-Century British History, University of Sheffield