The civilizing process in London’s Old Bailey

Klingenstein, Sara, Hitchcock, Tim and DeDeo, Simon (2014) The civilizing process in London’s Old Bailey. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (26). pp. 9419-8242. ISSN 1091-6490

PDF - Published Version
Download (1MB) | Preview


The jury trial is a critical point where the state and its citizens come together to define the limits of acceptable behavior. Here we present a large-scale quantitative analysis of trial transcripts from the Old Bailey that reveal a major transition in the nature of this defining moment. By coarse-graining the spoken word testimony into synonym sets and dividing the trials based on indictment, we demonstrate the emergence of semantically distinct violent and nonviolent trial genres. We show that although in the late 18th century the semantic content of trials for violent offenses is functionally indistinguishable from that for nonviolent ones, a long-term, secular trend drives the system toward increasingly clear distinctions between violent and nonviolent acts. We separate this process into the shifting patterns that drive it, determine the relative effects of bureaucratic change and broader cultural shifts, and identify the synonym sets most responsible for the eventual genre distinguishability. This work provides a new window onto the cultural and institutional changes that accompany the monopolization of violence by the state, described in qualitative historical analysis as the civilizing process.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: cultural evolution group cognition social systems bureaucracy information theory
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA History of Great Britain > DA020 England > DA090 Antiquities. General works
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics > P0098 Computational linguistics. Natural language processing
Q Science > QA Mathematics
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA0276 Mathematical statistics
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Timothy Hitchcock
Date Deposited: 02 Jul 2014 14:54
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2017 05:24

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update