‘What’s past is prologue’

AuthorSverre Flaatten,Per Jørgen Ystehede
Published date01 March 2014
Date01 March 2014
Subject MatterIntroduction
EUC494739.indd 494739EUC11210.1177/1477370813494739European Journal of CriminologyFlaatten and Ystehede
European Journal of Criminology
2014, Vol. 11(2) 135 –141
‘What’s past is prologue’
© The Author(s) 2014
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1477370813494739
Sverre Flaatten and Per Jørgen Ystehede
University of Oslo, Norway
(And by that destiny) to perform an act Whereof what’s past is prologue; what to come, In
yours and my discharge.
Shakespeare: The Tempest Act 2, scene 1, pp. 245–254
When introducing a special issue on Historical Criminology one is almost bound to pon-
der the question: what are the relationships between history and criminology? The topics
that today belong to the categories of ‘crime’ and the ‘criminal justice system’ are by no
means new forms of inquiry in historical research. Murder, adultery and theft, for exam-
ple, address deeply moral issues in the Western canon and Western politics and seem to
have fired the (historical) imagination throughout time.
Control, safety and the boundaries of power and territory also conflate with issues of
crime and punishment. The famous Florentine statesman Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–
1527) tells the story of Cesare Borgia, Duke of Romagna, who sought to pacify a prov-
ince in his territory which was known for strife and conflict. The Duke commissioned
Messer Ramiro de Lorqua, widely known for his brutality. De Lorqua duly crushed the
resistance and took control of the province. When control was established Borgia no
longer saw the need for de Lorqua. Borgia established a civil court, whose head, a famous
legal scholar familiar with the regime, sentenced de Lorqua to death. In the month of
December 1502, Messer Ramiro de Lorqua was torn in half in the town square. According
to Machiavelli, the effect of the spectacle was to increase the loyalty of the inhabitants of
the city: “The barbarity of this spectacle caused the people to be at once satisfied and
(Machiavelli, 1988: 26).
Reinhart Koselleck’s (1973/1959) classic study of the sattelzeitt1 argues that Europe’s reli-
gious wars of the 16th century caused a rise in secular technique for control – a secular ‘raison
d’état’. Hobbes’ Leviathan is the prime example. In the wake of the early Enlightenment
period this secular technology was re-moralized (Koselleck, 1973/1959). In return for safety
Corresponding author:
Sverre Flaatten, University of Oslo, Faculty of Law, Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law, P.O. Box
6706, St. Olavs plass 5, 0130 Oslo, Norway.
Email: sverre.flaatten@jus.uio.no

European Journal of Criminology 11(2)
the absolute state demanded obedience. Questions concerning confession were to be left to
the private sphere. As Koselleck poetically put it, under the absolute state man is free only in
secret, as a citizen he is subordinated by the sovereign. With the Enlightenment questions of
morals became a matter for the public sphere2. Koselleck saw in this moralization of politics
the threat of confessionalization, and with it the threat of war between citizens.
Voltaire (1694–1778) and Cesare Beccaria (1738–1794) raged against the brutal punish-
ments of their times with moral vigour using history as a weapon in their political combat.
In Italian there is no differentiation between ‘story’ and ‘history’ unless one uses a
definite article and an adjective. La storia might be fantastic tales, or may be narratives
of historical events – la storia moderna, la storia criminale. In this vast area of themes,
stories and history, what then is Historical Criminology? What does Historical
Criminology cover? Is it the history of crime and punishment as a whole, or should it be
more narrowly defined, as the history of criminology? In ‘historical criminology’, should
one include only historical...

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