Citizen Social Science: Criminology students as Citizen Social Scientists

Dr Vicky Nagy1, Dr Alana Piper2, Dr Nancy  Cushing3

1University Of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia
2University of Technology, Sydney, Sydney, Australia
3University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia

Criminology undergraduate students around Australia receive only minimal education about pre-1980 crime and justice issues during their studies. This is an issue that impacts not just Australian universities but globally, with Conley (1977,1993) long arguing the ahistorical nature of criminology education in the United States has meant that only a narrow contemporary perspective was on offer for students, and where historical discussion was available it was limited to discussions of criminological theories of crime causation or the development of policing. Strong argument exists for introducing criminology students to the study of historical criminology; it is through historical criminology that students could best reflect on the contemporary purposes of the criminal justice system, or interrogate current public fears and perceptions of the criminal justice system and how these have changed over time and will continue to change into the future.

While participatory research has a long history in social sciences with Crowdsourced Criminology recently emerging to helping solve active cases discussed in true crime documentaries or podcasts and Public Criminology helping with dissemination and public engagement, Citizen Social Science allows non-professional criminologists to actively add to the discipline. Nagy brought students studying the unit “Crime and Criminal Justice” at UTAS together with the Piper’s Criminal Character project to empower students to become Citizen Social Scientists allowing them to both learn and contribute back to the discipline.

Using the students’ reflection assessments we present the findings into what the students feel that they learnt from an assessment that required them to become citizen social scientists through using digitised historical criminal justice records and present our thoughts on what this means for the future of engaging criminology students in historical criminology.


Dr Vicky Nagy is a Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Tasmania. Vicky is the convenor of the Australian and New Zealand Historical Criminology Network, a thematic group of ANZSOC. Her research expertise is on building links between historical crimes and contemporary issues in criminal justice in Australia. Her recent publications include analysis of historical homicide offending, older women’s imprisonment pre-1920, and with Dr Alana Piper an article on the medical needs of older incarcerated women pre-1920.


Dec 10 2021