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British Police & the Democratic Idea since 1829 - HIS00032I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. James Parker
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2020-21

Module summary

The ‘Bobby on the beat’ is a national icon for the British. Their uniformed but unarmed police who patrol a neighbourhood on behalf of their local community have long been regarded by Britons as the best police in the world. It is common to trace the origins of this 'English' model of democratic policing to Sir Robert Peel's creation of the London Metropolitan Police in 1829. Defined in opposition to continental European police as well as its domestic predecessors, so-called New Police exerted a profound influence on police systems in Common Law countries. In these countries British police reforms gave rise to a shared vision of public-oriented policing expressed in terms of Peelite principles. The English police system that inspired these Anglo-American police principles stands in stark contrast to a ‘colonial’ or ‘Irish model’ of policing applied elsewhere in the British Empire. This course explores the history of these two British policing traditions with their contrasting approaches to police-public relations. Starting with the immediate predecessors of the London Metropolitan Police at the turn of the eighteenth century, we will look at the formation and operation of the New Police and their counterparts in the early nineteenth century before charting and comparing the evolution of Anglo-American policing systems during the late nineteenth century and twentieth centuries. Through our exploration of the discrepancies between the rhetoric and practice of democratic policing, you will also gain an introduction to the history of crime and criminal justice more generally.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2021-22 to Summer Term 2021-22

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study particular historical topics in depth;
  • To develop students’ ability to examine a topic from a range of perspectives and to strengthen their ability to work critically and reflectively with secondary and primary material; and
  • To combine seminar preparation and discussion of the topic being studied with extended independent work on a project devised by the student.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have acquired a deep knowledge of the specific topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to use and synthesise a range of primary and secondary sources
  • Be able to evaluate the arguments that historians have made about the topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to study independently through seminar-based teaching
  • Gain experience of working collaboratively through an assessed group project

Module content

Teaching Programme:

This 30-credit module is taught through a weekly two-hour seminar run from weeks 2-10 in the spring term and a four week period of project work undertaken in weeks 1-4 of the summer term. Students will complete their group project work within that period and tutors should arrange to be available for consultation with students twice during that time. There will be no formal seminar teaching during this period.

Constable Dogberry – Anglo-American policing before the police in the eighteenth century
The Peelers – the English origins of "democratic" policing
‘A plague of blue locusts’ – police and people in nineteenth-century England
John Bull’s other island – the Irish origins of colonial policing
Cops and Bobbies - American policing and the English model
In plain clothes - detective policing and political policing
‘An indulgent tradition’ – English police and the people, 1850-1950
The death of PC 49 - crisis and reform in postwar English policing
Decolonisation and after - legacies of colonial policing


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 33
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
8 hours 67

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative assessment will be a group presentation between weeks 5 and 7 of the spring term.

For summative assessment students take a 24-hour open exam in the summer term assessment period, usually released at 11:00 on day 1 and submitted at 11:00 on day 2. For those taking two Explorations modules the 24-hour open exams are held on consecutive days, with both papers released at 11:00 on day 1 and both due for submission on 11:00 of day 3.

Students also submit a piece of written work for their group project of no more than 3,000 words in week 5 of the summer term.

The exam carries 67% of assessment and the project element 33% for this module.

Students who need to be reassessed in the project component of this module (for example due to Exceptional Circumstance) will be required to submit in the summer reassessment period a shorter individual project (2,000 words) which should include a short reflection (500 words max) on group work, considering how this project could be expanded if a team of three to four people were working on it. Students should consider how they would divide up the research tasks, and reflect briefly on problems which might arise and how they would manage them. Module tutors will advise on the content and design of this project.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 33
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
8 hours 67

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline unless submitted in week 5 of the summer term, in which case these are available within 25 working days. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Emsley, Clive. The Great British Bobby: A History of Policing from 1829 to the Present. London: Quercus, 2009

Finnane, Mark. "The Origins of 'Modern' Policing." In The Oxford Handbook of Crime and Criminal Justice History, edited by Paul Knepper and Anja Johansen, 456-473. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016

Johansen, Anja. "Police-Public Relations: Interpretations of Policing and Democratic Governance." In The Oxford Handbook of Crime and Criminal Justice History, edited by Paul Knepper and Anja Johansen, 497-518. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.