'Homicidal crime across space and time. Why are some societies so much more murderous than others?
Homicide rates vary massively across time and between places, but attempts to explain these variations have revealed a number of paradoxes and contradictions. For example, in Europe in the Middle Ages murder prosecution rates were twenty times greater than they are now. The long-term decline in recorded homicides which was a major feature of the period from the fourteenth to the late nineteenth centuries has encouraged some historians to argue that the modernisation and the urbanisation process that occurred across Europe in this period was been the key factor behind this drastic reduction in levels of inter-personal violence. However, the geography of homicide does not necessarily back up this argument. In the second half of the twentieth century, for example, urban areas have been associated with very much higher murder rates. Drawing initially on Professor King’s recent primary research on nineteenth-century homicide rates in the two most rapidly industrialising and urbanising areas in Europe – England and Scotland – which has shown that homicide rates were 6 times higher in rapidly urbanising areas such as Glasgow than in peripheral rural ones such as the Highlands, the lecture will indicate how problematic this simplistic connection between modernisation and declining violence has turned out to be. It will then use data from across Europe, from twentieth century America and comparative world homicide rates available for the early twenty-first century as the basis for developing a model of the key factors that create high homicide rates in any specific place or time. By exploring the impact on homicide rates of factors such as the oppression of racial and national minorities, the survival of vendetta, the level and nature of state intervention, or the disruptions that result from large-scale in-migration into rapidly growing cities or industrialising areas, the lecture will attempt to develop a more sophisticated historically grounded understanding of the roots of high homicide rates in different societies.