Crime, History and Institutions: Transdisciplinary Conversations in Heritage, Art and Transmedia (#CHITCHAT?)


While the dictionary definition for ‘chitchat’ may be ‘inconsequential conversation,’ conversely this iSPER Research Initiative considers approaches for engaging the public in casual but enlightening dialogues around our historical research into local crime, regional history, and community institutions. Through making use of the extensive changes and increased portability of technology, #CHITCHAT? acts as sandpit for research collaboration and a forum for the development of tools that encourage public engagement with our research findings and other heritage materials. This initiative engages academic researchers, industry professionals, heritage stakeholders, and the general public in transdisciplinary conversations around Crime, History and Public Institutions through transmedia methods, sources, and platforms. 

Watch the video of #CHITCHAT? members Craig Newbery-Jones and Rob Giles to find out more.

#CHITCHAT? Co-Lead – Professor Kim Stevenson

Kim is Professor of Sociolegal History in the School of Law, Criminology and Government. Her research expertise focuses on the history of crime and criminal justice and the use of newspaper crime reportage. She is co-founder of SOLON Interdisciplinary Studies in Law, Crime and History, promoting research that draws primarily on legal and historical perspectives, and is co-editor of the Routledge SOLON book series: Explorations in the Histories of Crime and Criminal Justice. Kim is currently leading research on Everyday Offending in Plymouth 1850-1914

Take a look at Kim's video introducing #CHITCHAT?.

For more information about Kim's research and publications visit to her profile page.

#CHITCHAT? Co-Lead – Craig Newbery-Jones

Craig is a lecturer in Plymouth's School of Law, Criminology and Government. His interests include legal history and the representation of the law and lawyers in historical and contemporary culture, often intersecting with considerations of the ethics and regulation of legal professionals. Craig also has a keen interest in pedagogical theory, research and innovation, having led numerous projects based around Experiential, Technology Enhanced, and Problem Based Learning. These interests have recently converged into an aspiration to use contemporary technology and medias to engage the public in socio-legal historical research. He believes that virtual, augmented, and mixed reality experiences can be spaces of interactive experimentation for reflective learning within the heritage sector, and beyond.

Dr Judith Rowbotham, Visiting Research Professor, on the Importance of Heritage

#CHITCHAT? member, Dr Judith Rowbotham is a Visiting Research Professor in Plymouth's School of Law, Criminology and Government and a Director of SOLON Interdisciplinary Studies in Law, Crime and History

In this video Judith speaks about the value of heritage and the role it plays in underpinning individual, community and national identities. 

She describes how the work of #CHITCHAT? will show how crime has shaped heritage across Plymouth and the South West of England and emphasises the importance that this understanding can play in developing our future.

Past events...

#CHITCHAT? at the ESRC Festival of Social Science 2018

This is the fifth year that the iSPER’s #CHITCHAT Research Initiative team has participated in the ESRC Festival. This year CHITCHAT premiered the dramatized film documentary ‘How do you fix a town like Plymouth?’. The film is a home production, featuring Joseph Davidson Sowerby, former Chief Constable of the Plymouth borough police who led the force between 1892 and 1917 with a mission to clean up the town. Read more information about this film project.

The festival also saw the launch of the first publication of new archive material based on a new contemporary oral history archive developed by staff and students and showing the experiences of those responsible for policing the Three Towns. The brochure is based on over 20 full interviews capturing the stories, experiences and anecdotes of former serving officers including Plymouth’s first policewoman Eileen Normington, and is celebrating 50 years of Devon and Cornwall Police. Download the brochure.

How Do You Fix A Town Like Plymouth? An historical account of Chief Constable Joseph Sowerby 1892–1917

#CHITCHAT? at the Plymouth History Festival 2018

5 May–3 June – Legal Tyranny: Conscientious Objection in the Three Towns 1853-1914
#CHITCHAT? presented this free exhibition in association with RIO at Devonport Guildhall

Kim Stevenson gave a public talk at the University, as part of local studies day organised by Plymouth City Council and The Box

10 May – Objecting In Conscience - from Victorian Vaccination to Military Service, a historical exploration of Plymouth's part in the state's failure to persuade
Judith Rowbotham gave a public talk at Devonport guildhall linked to the exhibition.

Everyday Policing: The Oral Testimony of Retired Police Officers

#Chitchat? worked with Devon and Cornwall Police on a study of the nature of everyday policing in the 20th century. 

Read more information about this project

Conference: From Trauma to Protection: The Twentieth Century as the Children’s Century, 20 April 2018

Professor Kim Stevenson is co-authoring a book with Dr Kate Gleeson from Macquarie University and Dr Sinéad Ring from the University of Kent on responses to historical child sexual abuse, comparing England, Ireland and Australia. 

They presented a panel together at the From Trauma to Protection: the Twentieth Century as the Children’s Century conference, held at the University of Warwick on 20 April 2018. The conference was in association with Sciences Po University in Paris and the Centre for the History of Medicine at the University of Warwick.

Cornerstone Heritage

#CHITCHAT? members are also involved in Cornerstone – an interdisciplinary research group that brings together staff from across the University of Plymouth working in the field of Heritage (or how we live with the past today).  

Find out more about Cornerstone.

Dr Judith Rowbotham

Celebrating the strength of ‘ordinary’ women on International Women’s Day

"For International Women’s Day 2018, I want to remember and acknowledge the strength and achievements of women, particularly those in the South West (including Plymouth) during the Great War – not singling out the ‘heroic’ individuals, but instead appreciating the impact that a community of women who came together to work for their country had. In contributing to the war effort, ‘substituting’ for men, huge numbers of ‘ordinary’ women demonstrated quietly, and largely without fuss, that they were capable of doing well things hitherto considered ‘extraordinary’ for their sex. It was the impact of the mass of women that changed hearts and minds in government, and forced them to extend the franchise to include at least some women. Few of them thought of themselves as heroines, or extraordinary in what they achieved – but I do!"

A think piece from Dr Judith Rowbotham

Witness seminar 12 April 2018 – Plymouth Policewomen’s Department

#CHITCHAT? held its sixth witness seminar capturing the fascinating memories and stories of seven former policewomen who served in Plymouth City Policewomen’s Department in the 1950s and 1960s, covering themes relating to the uniforms issued, training received, relationships with the public, operational duties and work undertaken. Their oral testimony will be transcribed and stored on the University of Plymouth’s Contemporary Oral History Archive.

Download the seminar PowerPoint holding screen

Pirates, Police and Pasties 30 March–8 April 2018

Bodmin Jail in association with University of Plymouth Time-Lock Productions presented Pirates, Police and Pasties. Time-Lock is part of the University's iSPER #CHITCHAT? Research Initiative. 

Conference: Union and Disunion in the Nineteenth Century, 22–23 June 2017

#CHITCHAT? is supporting the University of Plymouth Nineteenth Century Studies conference on the 22–23 June at the main campus of the University. 

The #CHITCHAT team will be delivering a panel session on Plymouth: A Case Study of Unity and Disunity, which will include a specific focus on Union Street. 

Further information about the event can be found on the PUNCS website

Plymouth Past: Sustainable Future 

#CHITCHAT? members participated in the 2016 ESRC Festival of Social Sciences, a celebration of some of the country's leading social science research and its impact on society, the economy and politics. 

As part of their participation members produced the video on the left which provides a fascinating virtual tour of Plymouth's past and how it influences its present and future in the context of ensuring sustainability.