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The Organisation of Crime since 1600 - A Global History - HIS00165M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Mark Roodhouse
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

That organised crime poses a global threat is a commonplace for today’s securocrats. The origins of this view lie in 1969. That year saw the publication of two seminal texts: The Theft of a Nation by the criminologist Donald Cressey and The Godfather by the novelist Mario Puzo. For Cressey and Puzo, organised crime was an alien criminal conspiracy aping the structures of corporate enterprise. This view has informed US government policy and the American social imaginary ever since. Together Washington and Hollywood sold this idea globally.

In this module we will look at the genealogy of such ideas about criminal organisation and their impact on law enforcement. This is more than an intellectual and political history. It involves an exploration of the changing nature of criminal activity as well as its representation from the early modern period onwards. Drawing on the latest historical research from around the world, students will question an established historical narrative that starts with early modern banditry and ends with transnational organised crime, cherry-picking evidence from the histories of Italian, American, Chinese and Japanese history as it goes. By considering how various crimes were organised across Europe, the Americas and Asia more generally, students will critically evaluate and form their own ideas about the past, present and future of criminal organisation. In doing so, they will gain familiarity with key texts and canonical sources for the history of criminal organisation and its representation.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of a specialist historiographical literature;
  • Present findings in an analytical framework derived from a specialist field;
  • Solve a well-defined historiographical problem using insights drawn from secondary and, where appropriate, primary sources.
  • Set out written findings using a professional scholarly apparatus.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing (RAW) weeks during which there are no seminars, and during which students research and write a formative essay, consulting with the module tutor. Students prepare for eight seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. A Brief History of Criminal Organisation in Theory and Practice
  2. Criminal Organisation in Early Modern Europe and North America
  3. Criminal Organisation in Early Modern South and East Asia
  4. European and North American Urban Underworlds in the Long Nineteenth-Century
  5. Market Societies, Nation States and Mafias in Southern Italy, China and Japan
  6. Prohibitions, Illegal Markets and Criminal Organisation in Mid-Twentieth Century Western Europe and North America
  7. International and Transnational Crime in the Long Twentieth Century
  8. Market Transition and Criminal Organisation in the former Eastern Bloc


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay in week 9.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.



Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay 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 formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. 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 reading during the module, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Fijnaut, Cyrille. “Searching for Organized Crime in History.” In The Oxford Handbook of Organized Crime, edited by Letizia Paoli, 53-95. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.)
  • Lampe, Klaus von. Organized Crime: Analyzing Illegal Activities, Criminal Structures, and Extra-legal Governance, 1-56. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2016.)
  • Shore, Heather. “A Brief History of the Underworld and Organised Crime.” In Oxford Handbook of Crime and Criminal Justice History, edited by Paul Knepper and Anja Johansen, 170-91. (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.