Author: Jonathan Oates Publisher: Pen & Sword w. www.pen-and-sword.co.uk ISBN: 9781473892569 Price: £14.99 (PB)
Jonathan Oates is an archivist and local history librarian, but his Pen & Sword books show two clear areas of interest – Jacobean history and early 20th century true crime.
His interest in the latter is obvious in the majority of case studies he uses in Tracing Villains and their Victims. It would, however, have been good to have more case studies from a wider range of eras, to demonstrate the problems and limitations of sources over the centuries, and how these have changed.
Oates writes well, and has obviously done a good amount of research. There is, perhaps, not enough recognition either of change over time or of regional differences, though. The assumption here seems to be that readers will be researching late 19th/early 20th century trials – but what of earlier eras?
Unfortunately, Oates notes that he wasn’t brought up with ‘the internet as a key research tool’ and therefore ‘remains sceptical of its use as a primary research mechanism’. He is surprisingly negative about the British Newspaper Archive, and fails to recognise the usefulness of such sites as Old Bailey Proceedings Online, and the new Digital Panopticon (see page 74 of this issue).
In summary, then, this is a book with some helpful background and ideas for research, written generally well, but let down slightly by the author’s own interests and beliefs. However, for an individual researching crime in their family history for the first time, they will find plenty of suggestions for primary research here, and information on the courts and criminal justice system that they might like to follow up elsewhere.
Read it for: A flawed but useful guide for family historians new to researching criminal forebears or the victims of crimes