During the 1700s British society and its criminal justice system did not distinguish between violent and nonviolent crimes. A thief or a murderer would both receive the death penalty, usually hanging. 60 years later grounds for capital punishment shifted.Today the death penalty is no longer carried out in Britain. Scientists using computer analysis explore why this change occurred and how society’s attitudes toward violence has evolved over the 20th century.
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Computing Crime and Punishment By S. Blakeslee The New York Times
“In 1765, John Ward was hanged for stealing a watch and a hat. Two years later Elizabeth Brownrigg was sent to the gallows for torturing a young orphan for weeks, including tying her to a hook, stripping her naked and horsewhipping her until “the blood gushed in torrents from her wounds” and she died.
In those days, British society and its criminal justice system, did not distinguish between violent and nonviolent crimes. Pickpockets and murderers equally deserved the death penalty.
Not so just 60 years later. A murderer might be executed or exiled to Australia, but a pickpocket would probably only pay a fine. Grounds for capital punishment shifted. Violent and nonviolent crimes fell into separate realms.
How did this change happen? Leave it to generations of British bureaucrats to help provide answers. From 1674 through 1913, court reporters wrote detailed accounts of virtually every trial held at the Central Criminal Court, known as the Old Bailey, where all major criminal cases for Greater London were heard.
Scientists have now carried out a computational analysis of those words showing how the British justice system created new practices for controlling violence. This study demonstrates “an important new way to do historical research,” said Brett Bobley, director of digital humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities. Historians may study collections of individual items — books, old letters or newspapers— but they can’t read an entire library; computers, he said, can do just that.
Steven Pinker, the Harvard linguist and author of “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” said the new study offered a valuable quantitative analysis of a major development: Europe’s civilizing process, in which violence was increasingly deemed unworthy of respectable citizens. Formerly, cultures of honor had valued violence as an appropriate response to insults and offenses.”
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video clip.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Have students examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- British society did not distinguish between violent and nonviolent crimes.
- A murderer might be executed or exiled to Australia.
- Leave it to generations of British bureaucrats to help provide answers.
- The corpus includes 121 million words describing 197,000 trials.
- Two years later Elizabeth Brownrigg was sent to the gallows for murder.
- This study demonstrates an important new way to do historical research.
- Steven Pinker is a Harvard and author.
- The volume of data coming out the system incomprehensible.
- For every word we have a number that equates with a meaning.
- One key finding is the gradual criminalization of violence.
Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- Elizabeth Browning was sent to the gallows for torturing a young orphan.
- John Ward was hanged for stealing a watch and a hat.
- British society and its criminal justice system, did not distinguish between violent and nonviolent crimes in those days.
- 2 years later grounds for capital punishment shifted.
- From 1674 through 1913, court reporters wrote detailed accounts of virtually every trial held at the Central Criminal Court.
- The series Sherlock was based on these findings.
- The Central Criminal Court was known as the Old Bailey.
- The study is a collaboration between two computer scientists, and a historian.
- Steven Pinker is a Harvard linguist and author.
- Pinker was also involved in this study.
Using Adjectives to describe pictures
Directions: Have students choose a picture from this lesson and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.
III. Post Reading Tasks
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
1. Put the following 3 statements from the article in your own words.
- “In those days, British society and its criminal justice system, did not distinguish between violent and nonviolent crimes. Pickpockets and murderers equally deserved the death penalty. Not so just 60 years later. A murderer might be executed or exiled to Australia, but a pickpocket would probably only pay a fine. Grounds for capital punishment shifted. Violent and nonviolent crimes fell into separate realms.”
- “Steven Pinker, the Harvard linguist and author… said the new study offered avaluable quantitative analysis of a major development: Europe’s civilizing process, in which violence was increasingly deemed unworthy of respectable citizens. Formerly, cultures of honor had valued violence as an appropriate response to insults and offenses.”
- “To find patterns, the scientists looked at when and how often certain words occurred. Say you walk into a trial in 1750 and pick out one word,…How much can you learn about what the trial is about? If you hear the word ‘kick,’ you might associate it with violence, but you could not be certain. But by 1850, if you hear the word ‘kick,’ you would know a lot about what the bureaucracy was going to do…With the passage of time, each word carries more information based on accumulating trial data. And this is what we can quantify.”
2. In your opinion, should the death penalty exist in any country? Provide reasons for your answer.
3. Why do you think some countries still have a death penalty?
4. Describe the justice system in your country. For example are there different punishments for each crime committed?
IV. Listening Activity
Video Clip: [British] Capital Punishment Over the Years. Discovery/History/Crime (documentary) Published on Feb 18, 2014
Listening for New Vocabulary or New Terms
Directions: Here is a list of words from the video. Have students find the meanings before they listen to the video. As students listen, they are to check off the words as they hear them.
deterrent, retribution, moral, premeditated.
While Listening Activities
Directions: Students listen for the correct word or phrase to complete the sentences taken from the video. They are to choose from the options presented.
- Today there are over 50 countries around the whirl/world which continue to use the death penalty.
- Individuals who brake the law can face a firing squad/square in China, lethal injection in the USA, and the hangman’s noose in Singapore.
- It is only a decadence/decade since capital punishment was finally removed from British law.
- For centuries Britain carried out state execute/executions and capital punishment was defended as a detergent/ deterrent against crime, retribution against those who broke society’s rules.
- For over 200 years a moral battle raged/rage about whether the State has the right to execute.
- A powerful liberal elitist/elite emerged determined to abolish the death penalty.
- The death penalty is inhuman/human and degrading when you see how it is carried out and the procedures that are necessary .
- But the vast majority of public onion/opinion has continued to demand the ultimate punishment.
- There are certain sorts/sores of murder that are premeditated, violent, and shocking.
- This debate has shaped/shaved our ideas about how a civilized society should punish its citizens in the 21st century.
Questions for Discussion
Directions:Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions.
1. After listening to this video has your personal idea of the death penalty changed in any way? If yes, describe in what way. If no, describe your original opinion.
2. Did you agree with the comments made by the speakers? Discuss which comments you agreed with and which ones you tended not to agree with. Provide reasons for your answers.
3. With your group members, make up questions that you would like to ask the speakers.