The entrance to the Department of History’s office in Sidney Smith Hall

Female Killers and Criminal Responsibility in the Nineteenth-Century British Empire

Start Date and Time:

Friday, April 6, 2018, 12:30PM

End Date and Time:

Friday, April 6, 2018, 2:00PM


Dr. Catherine Evans (Assistant Professor Of Criminology)

In the late nineteenth century, a number of intellectual currents converged to produce a crisis in how Britons, in England and in the wider British empire, understood criminality and its implications for common law doctrines premised on free will and the ideal of the autonomous, rational individual. These anxieties crystallized in what we might call ‘responsibility cases’: high-profile criminal cases, usually involving homicide, in which judges, lawyers, medical men and members of the public tested the boundary between biology and agency. I focus on a sub-group of defendants who only occasionally figured in such cases: women. Their cases were less likely to elicit the kind of jurisprudential and philosophical agonizing that regularly marked those involving male defendants, despite the fact that women were believed to be particularly vulnerable to insanity. Using criminal cases from a variety of imperial jurisdictions, this talk reintegrates violent women into the history of criminal responsibility and complicates our understandings of criminal law and personhood in the British world.

A light lunch will be served at 12:00.



  • Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies

Contact Information

Lori Wells

Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies


Room 265, Ericson Seminar Room, 2nd Floor, 14 Queen's Park Cres W, Toronto, ON M5S 3K9 view full map




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