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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

Filtering by Tag: archives

Exploring Criminal Justice and Colonialism in Bahrain

Nickie Phillips

Bahraini policewomen on the eve of the country's independence from Britain (1971; Photo: Bahrain Weekly)

In Bahrain, the criminal justice system we see today is a direct result of the colonial encounter -- a situation not acknowledged enough in current scholarship, and in desperate need of a critical voyage to the imperial archives.

Staci Strobl, Co-founder Crimcast

Eight years ago, when I was conducting an ethnography of Bahraini policewomen, I attempted to refer to secondary sources as to the criminal justice history of the small country, particularly regarding the development of policewomen.  Unfortunately, I found only sanitized, un-critical sources that picked up at a colonial moment as if nothing strange or disruptive had ever happened before that, for naturally a European-style criminal justice system, complete with bureaucratic forms to handle a "gender problem," was completely sensible in this distant land.

The field of comparative criminal justice remains under-developed relative to other criminal justice endeavors.  The last decade has seen a proliferation of encyclopedic volumes designed to fill in the descriptive gap, but detailed analytical pieces, particularly from non-western countries which are sufficiently historically contextualized, remain scant.  Bahrain is no exception.

To augment my ethnographic data, I made my way to the Historical Documents Center in Riffa', Bahrain and poured through colonial documents in order to uncover the policing past. 

Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al-Khalifah, ruler of Bahrain from 1961-99

In the end, I was left with the historian's task (though I am not a trained historian) of interpreting some ambiguous and contradictory claims in primary sources by various important actors of the day from the

Al-Khalifah royal family to the political consultant from the 1920s-50s, Sir Charles Belgrave. Policewomen were a British legacy of gender liberalism at the time of de-colonization, I argued, but were palpable to local Bahrainis as a means of serving conservative populations who appreciate traditional sex segregation.

Along the way, I vowed to one day be the more general criminal justice historian I needed for my then-specific, ethnographic mission.  It has taken several years to get around to the task, but this year I will be spending enough time in England to follow up on the many interesting threads first encountered in the Bahrain historical center, having time to review the vernacular file of the India Office records of the British Library (Bahrain was administered under the India Office during the early 20th century).

Charles-Belgrave2

We take as natural that police should have uniforms, that punishment should involve concrete cages called prisons, that judges should sit at benches in standing courts.  But in non-European contexts this was often not the indigenous way of maintaining social order and punishing deviance.  Max Weber callously maligned the palm tree justice of the Arab world, but in fact, in the Arabian Gulf it was an effective method for maintaining the peace in the wake of fluid tribal alliances and shifting economic endeavors.  The qadi under the tree, eclipsed by Belgrave's push to "rationalize" Bahraini justice, had political and religious legitimacy that could never be replaced by the modern colonial machine-- a machine that remains contested today in the Arab spring.

The seeds of today's opposition in Bahrain stem from colonial days.  Patterns of police employment of Sunni individuals over Shi'a were cemented in the late colonial period as punishment for Shi'a involvement in the National Union Committee and earlier revolutionary attempts, buffeted by head of the British colonial police in Bahrain and later State Security (1966-97), Ian Henderson (linked to police torture of Shi'a activists).  The political cache of hiring outside consultants-- Belgrave and Henderson then and John Yates and John Timoney more recently-- stem from the early 20th century rival Gulf monarchies' boasts of powerful foreign friends.  Playing up an overblown Iranian threat is a at least hundred-year old trope that the West swallows over and over again.

Ian Henderson, British police consultant to Bahrain linked to torture (photo: The Telegraph)

The Al-Khalifah royal family and advisors like Belgrave made very concrete political decisions throughout the 20th century that unraveled the fabric of traditional means of maintaining order and achieving justice.  It was disruptive to social and political relations as they had been operating for centuries previous, not a natural or teleological development as many mainstream scholars have assumed.

My archival research at the British Library and at University of Exeter will hopefully help to uncover what existed before the colonial experience and how it was eclipsed.  I hope to better document from whence Bahrain criminal justice came-- at least in the way that it may have been understood and misunderstood by British political agents.

It is here, though, that one often uncovers indigenous voices that have been lost in the paperwork-- testimonies of elder tribespeople, oral laws written down at a certain colonial period of time, etc.  But can an understanding of the old ways, themselves fluid and changing over time, be recovered?

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is certainly right to haunt us with the notion that all this historical

Bahrain court sketch from the trial of 21 opposition movement leaders in June of 2011 (www.twentyfoursevennews.com)movement leaders in June of 2011 (www.twentyfoursevennews.com)

back-tracking just leads us to the brick wall of a "tearing of time" in which the colonial encounter in all its "docketing" of the cultural and political threads ends up obscuring that which existed before it.  Or, in the word of Homi Bhabha, we cannot begin to make sense of an “imperial aporia” that described indigenous lacunae through a very thick and cloudy lens of colonial paternalism.

All of this seems like a very tall order for four months of research abroad, but perhaps all such endeavors start off exalted and then whittle themselves down to bite-size pieces.  In any case, it will be a bit of geek-joy to sit in the British library with old, colonial letters, and ponder a time gone by.

Series on archival research in criminal justice

This is the fifth in a 5-part series appearing throughout 2013 focusing on the often game-changing discoveries that come out of archival work in the realm of police, courts, and corrections.  The other four parts can be found here:

Sculpting Doughboys: Militarism, Manhood, and Memorials of WWI

Nickie Phillips

Jennifer Wingate

Crimcast sat down with Dr. Jennifer Wingate, an assistant professor in the International Cultural Studies, Foreign Languages, Fine Arts department at St. Francis College. Dr. Wingate recently published Sculpting Doughboys: Memory, Gender, and Taste in America’s World War I Memorials (2013), a book that explores memorials and sculptures, or "doughboys," in the United States in the aftermath of World War I.

In your work, you mention that World War I memorials and sculptures often celebrated militaristic ideals in ways that overshadowed the tragedy of war. Can you give a brief example of what you mean by this?

Especially in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, sculptural memorials were triumphant and heroic, often featuring actively fighting soldiers rather than mournful or dying soldiers. The emphasis was on belligerent themes rather than on loss and suffering. Many communities erected simple honor rolls (lists of names of the dead), but those who went through the trouble of raising money to erect sculptures needed to satisfy many different constituencies, including veterans and their families. Even though only a small percentage of US WWI soldiers actually saw combat (compared with Civil War soldiers for example), civilians and veterans alike equated male citizenship and service with rifles and bayonets. It was important for public memorials to reinforce that ideal of unwavering heroism. In my book, I also argue that the fighting soldier stood as a symbol of protection and vigilance during the postwar red scare. One memorial designer in particular, who sold over a hundred copies of his fighting soldier, advertised his memorial design as a sign of anti-radicalism.

In the aftermath of World War I, in what ways did the heroism of the memorials and sculptures relate to the broader visual culture of the era? 

Fighting soldiers and fit, healthy, and strong veterans were everywhere in the visual culture of the era, from movies and advertisements to sheet music covers. The year 1919 was a time of economic and social upheaval.  Returning soldiers who survived the war and the flu epidemic, faced unemployment and serious racial tensions. Memorials featuring stoic and virile soldiers served as reassuring beacons of stability and familiarity.

In your book, you mention that the doughboy sculptures reveal more than just "simple commemorations of the sacrifices of U.S. troops," and offer insight into the public's notion of manhood and strength. In what ways were these characteristics rendered in the sculptures and what are the racial implications of these representations?

Sculpting Doughboys

As with the previously dedicated Civil War memorials, these soldier sculptures were intended to represent universal notions of manhood, and in the 1920s in the United States, that still meant white manhood. It had been very important for African American enlisted men to fight rather than serve exclusively in labor battalions. However, only those regiments who fought with the French escaped the worst discrimination during their service. There were efforts to erect memorials to honor African American soldiers, but most were never realized. Chicago and Philadelphia dedicated two notable exceptions. The history of the Bronzeville memorial in Chicago is interesting because the memorial did not feature a fighting soldier at first, but three bronze reliefs depicting an African American warrior standing with shield and sword and personifications of Motherhood and Columbia. Later, the artist added a freestanding sculpture of a fighting soldier in response to community dissatisfaction with the original design, which was perceived as too “passive.”

Sculptors often subscribed to pseudoscientific beliefs that equated physical type with race, class, and national character. Examples abound of sculptors striving to achieve the postwar ideal of “100% Americanism” by portraying “American” type soldiers and of critics lauding memorial designs for capturing the authentic “American” man.

In what ways were sculptors, specifically those that were inclined to produce anti-war or pacifist art, constrained in their work?

Sculptors who did not want to celebrate war and militarism in their memorial designs had a bit more flexibility starting around 1921, but even then any pacifist sentiment that they expressed had to be open-ended and subtle. Public art is an art of consensus, and the politics of the interwar period were too complicated to allow for stridently pacifist commemorative statements. There are exceptions, but for the most part, sculptors who were unwilling to compromise their anti-war statements, did not succeed in realizing public memorials. Interestingly, some of the most striking exceptions were women sculptors, who were already working at a disadvantage in the field of public military sculpture. Anna Coleman Ladd, who had worked in France during the war making tin masks for disfigured veterans, dedicated an unusually gruesome memorial featuring a skeleton hanging from the barbed wire of no-man’s-land. The memorial was dedicated in a cemetery, and so did not have the visibility of a more public memorial located in a town square or park. The American Legion Post that commissioned it specifically requested a memorial that represented “the truth about war.”

The collaboration between the Governor of Maine, Percival Baxter, and the sculptor, Bashka Paeff, proved even more fortuitous. Like Ladd, Paeff felt very strongly that memorials should not glorify war. Baxter, who chose Paeff’s design for the state of Maine, agreed that memorials should teach the lessons of war’s violence. Paeff’s bronze relief features a female allegory of Civilization shielding her baby from the destruction of war.  Exceedingly rare for a U.S. war memorial, it also depicts the bodies of two dead soldiers. By the time the memorial was complete, the new governor (Baxter’s successor) objected to the relief’s pacifism, and according to one journalist, the pacifist ideas “current among women.” Notions of “patriotic motherhood” were promoted in the visual culture of the war, and women who did not willingly give their sons to the nation could be accused of radicalism.

You primarily used the Smithsonian Institution Inventory of American Sculpture database and files and artists’ papers in the Archives of American Art. Can you tell us some of the challenges you faced in doing this kind of archival research? Do you have any recommendations for other researchers wishing to use these archives?

The Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS) database is a good place to start, and it is continuously updated, but it’s important to try to go to local sources as well, like regional historical societies, and to artists’ papers, which typically include project files and correspondence with the memorial committee. The Smithsonian Inventory of American Sculpture also has files on public memorials throughout the country that were inventoried during a “Save Outdoor Sculpture!” survey in the 1990s. They contain photos, miscellaneous clippings, and related information. I was very lucky to have a fellowship at the Smithsonian, which gave me regular access to those files and photographs in DC. Also, many of the Smithsonian’s photographs are being digitized now, so it’s easier, teamed with online resources like Flickr, to actually see what these memorials look like. Even so, pretty much every source is incomplete. To put the story of a single memorial commission together, I usually needed to consult multiple sources. The Library of Congress has the papers of sculptor Daniel Chester French, for example, but the National Archives has the papers of the Fine Arts Commission, which was heavily involved with French’s projects and proposals for the capital as well as with those of sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (whose papers are at the Archives of American Art).

Because many of the sculptors who made WWI memorials are lesser known than French and Whitney, I had to use a lot of papers that were never microfilmed (or digitized). In the case of the Boston-based artist Bashka Paeff, I tracked down her papers at the home of one of her nephews (with the help of a fellow art historian). The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art recently acquired some of those papers, but when collections are broken up, challenges are raised for future researchers. Now Paeff’s papers presumably are well organized and more accessible, but some pertinent items are located at other repositories, like the Massachusetts College of Art and Design library in Boston. Projects like this require a lot of persistence and detective work. My advice would be, even in an era of increasing digitization, not to rely on databases, and to exhaust all possible sources. Even though regional newspapers can be searched in excellent databases at the Library of Congress, there’s still obviously a lot of value in browsing and reading papers on microfilm.  Another helpful source for me was the monument trade journal, The Monumental News. I used to read it at the Science, Industry, and Business branch of the New York Public Library, but now those volumes are located off-site and recently one volume that I was looking for was missing. Hopefully, before too many more go missing, they can be digitized for online access!

What projects are you currently working on? Can we expect more work from you on other war memorials? 

I think my work on memorials may be complete for the time being, though I remain committed to public art and to art that’s used, enjoyed, and viewed outside museums and galleries. Though I’m a museum junkie and I appreciate “art for art’s sake,” the “high/low” distinction has always been a thorn in my side. When I was l growing up, Norman Rockwell was my favorite artist, but the art establishment has only relatively recently accepted his work as embodying legitimate artistic concerns. I’ve been thinking a lot about “social practice” art for a class I’m teaching, Art of Social Change. What interests me about this art is that it raises so many questions about the definition of art and how one evaluates art that deals more with ethics than aesthetics. There’s something irritating about these conversations and that’s always the sign of a good new project.

archive

This is the third in a 5-part series appearing throughout 2013 focusing on the often game-changing discoveries that come out of archival work in the realm of criminology and criminal justice.

“I Will Join With You in the Order of Marriage,” and Also With You

Nickie Phillips

Bigamy Prosecutions in Late Medieval France

mcdougall

Crimcast sat down with Dr. Sara McDougall, John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor and author of Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late Medieval Champagne (2012), to discuss her book’s fascinating glimpse into decisions to prosecute bigamy in medieval northern France. Her archival research into court documents from 15th century Troyes uncovered that men, not women, were more likely to be prosecuted for bigamy and that the prosecutions were an attempt to reaffirm Christian moral order in a time of social dislocation after the Hundred Years’ War. Northern France, ahead of its time in a prosecutorial spirit that would characterize the later Inquisition, zealously regulated itself in order to be more pleasing to God.

You describe the prosecutions as a kind of “moral panic” expressed by some clergy in the area. How was this sense of moral panic conveyed in the court records? What type of court was it?

Local religious authorities throughout Catholic Europe had what was called "spiritual jurisdiction" over the communities they served. This jurisdiction included the power to prosecute moral offences, crimes involving members of the clergy, and crimes involving either sacred spaces or sacred things. As marriage counted among the most sacred things of the Catholic Church, bishops in many parts of Europe claimed the power to regulate marriages. While all of these courts operated according to the rules of canon law - the law of the Catholic Church - regional differences abounded. In some places, church courts came to operate quite aggressively to regulate moral behavior, while in other places - probably most places - church courts essentially operated only in response to a request from an accuser or complainant.

The bishop's court in Troyes was exceptionally proactive. They employed a team of trained jurists who acted as public prosecutors, as notaries, and also as quasi-police officers to investigate, collect depositions, and arrest and detain suspected offenders.

I argue that they did so out of a shared desire to reform behavior in their diocese, out of a belief that the devastating warfare and disruptions they suffered from in the fifteenth century were due to divine punishment for the sinful behavior in the community. Acting upon their legal and theological training, they prosecuted hundreds of men and women for alleged sexual offences and violations of marriage law, as well as blasphemy and violence. They also targeted scapegoats, those they considered to have committed the crimes they deemed most injurious to the salvation of souls in the community. These "worst offenders" according to their assessments, were priests who had fought as brigands and male bigamists. Similar "moral panic" is seen in other parts of France at the same time, and with different targets, such as witches.

What were some of the descriptions of punishments meted out for bigamy at the time? Were public denunciation and humiliation also important aspects of this moral panic?

Public punishment was absolutely an essential tool. The court regularly subjected male bigamists and others who they found to be guilty of the most serious offences, to public exposure, tying them by their wrists to the ladder of the scaffold in front of the cathedral on Sundays and feast days, the days in which the largest numbers of people would see their shame. The court also subjected these "worst offenders" to imprisonment, with sentences usually ranging from a month to a few years. If short, these sentences could nevertheless prove deadly, as conditions in the prison were less than ideal. These sentences were exceptional. For the vast majority of offenders, the court punished them with a fine, usually a small one.

The book explores the idea that marriage was so sacred to people in France at this time that they would go to great lengths to be married—multiple times. Tell us how this came to be the case.

sara cover

Previously, scholars usually assumed that people in most of medieval Europe did not care a great deal about marriage. If their marriages went badly, these scholars thought, people would just work out some kind of arrangement, mutually or unilaterally, separating themselves and occasionally taking up with new partners who they could not legally marry. This certainly seems to be common in some parts of Italy, as Emlyn Eisenach has shown, and probably in Spain as well. However, the work of scholars such as David d'Avray - whose work is really quite riveting and convincing - has demonstrated that in much of medieval Europe, by the mid-fourteenth and especially the fifteenth century many people came to care a great deal about marriage, for a number of reasons. Marriage had become greatly prized in medieval society. Marriage not only provided legitimacy for children - which allowed them to inherit lands and titles from their parents - it also promoted both social status and religious status. People came to believe that a married woman assumed a position of honor and respect in a community; she also helped to ensure her salvation by marrying. Men, too, assumed positions of social and religious honor by taking wives and raising families, by acting as responsible household head, charged with working towards his own salvation but also that of his wife and children. As marriage became seen as providing these things, particularly in places such as Northern France, more and more people whose first marriages had fallen apart for some reason seem to have decided that they wanted to be married to their new partner regardless of the fact that it was technically illegal to do so. They wanted God's blessing on their union, they wanted the legitimacy marriage accorded children (and even if courts found a couple guilty of bigamy they usually treated the children as legitimate, in a rather generous presumption that at least one of the parties to the marriage could have thought it was a valid marriage), and they wanted to be able to live together without shame, without rebuke from their neighbors.

The fact that more men than women were prosecuted for bigamy is a finding that challenges conventional notions of how western patriarchy operates. In a Bostonia article, you are quoted as referring to it as a kind of “useful misogyny.” Why weren’t women prosecuted more often? Were they getting a big break or might there have been informal sanctions waiting for them?

As so often the case throughout history, courts in medieval Europe punished men far more often and more harshly than women. While we might assume that bigamy would prove an exception to this rule - as would a crime like witchcraft or infanticide, typically classic "female crimes" - in fact it did not. Many women committed bigamy, remarrying after either abandoning their husbands or being abandoned by them, but did not face the same punishment that a man who did the same thing would face. Women generally paid small fines, if anything, for their bigamy, while male bigamists were subject to public punishment and imprisoned. This has, I argue, precisely to do with the "useful misogyny" you mentioned. As the court officials - and many people at the time - thought that men were more responsible and more rational than women, almost anything a woman did was not really her fault, but the fault of a man instead. Her father, husband, or lover should have kept her from wrongdoing, and if she committed some crime like bigamy, it was really the men in her life who were to blame. This misogyny, of course, is insulting, but it certainly worked to these women's advantage.

What are you working on these days? Are there more stories of scandalous behavior and colorful prosecutions to be found in medieval archives?

I am currently working on two different, related projects. One is a sort of cultural history of adultery in late-medieval France, an effort to address all the different ways in which people thought about and responded to adultery, in and out of court. There are quite a few scandalous stories I could tell - stay tuned! I am also researching illegitimate children, to try and find out more about them. We know very little about what people did about illegitimate children - how often they may have practiced abortion or infanticide, or abandoned the children, and also what they did with illegitimate children they decided to keep. We do not know what it meant for these children to be known as illegitimate throughout their lives, if indeed they were so stigmatized.

archive

This is the first in a 5-part series appearing throughout 2013 focusing on the often game-changing discoveries that come out of archival work in the realm of police, courts, and corrections.