Criminal Tattoos

Analysing criminal tattoos through data mining and visualisation. Funded by BA/Jisc Digital Research in the Humanities.

The remarkable increase in tattooing among convicts in the nineteenth century is poorly understood. It is unclear why convicts marked their bodies in ways which facilitated official surveillance, nor do we understand the complex mixture of sentiments expressed. Building on existing, but limited, case studies, this project will analyse tattoos on 60,700 convicts in Britain and Australia from 1788 to 1925, examining descriptions of tattoos alongside evidence of convicts’ personal backgrounds. While this evidence is available within the Digital Panopticon web resource, this topic is currently impossible to research because 1) information about tattoos is often cryptic and enmeshed within broader descriptive fields, and 2) existing search and visualisation facilities do not enable the data to be usefully interrogated and synthesised. This project will develop new methods of data extraction and visualisation in order to better understand the meanings embedded within this and other rich bodies of fragmentary textual evidence.

Project Website

Related Websites

Project Team

  • Prof. Robert Shoemaker (Principal Investigator – University of Sheffield)
  • Dr Zoe Alker (Co-Investigator – University of Liverpool)
  • Dr Sharon Howard (Research Associate – University of Sheffield)
  • Jamie McLaughlin (Developer – The Digital Humanities Institute)

Image Credits
Image taken from a digitised version of the Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1881 – 1894), Mon 15 Nov 1886, Page 8; available via Trove at the National Library of Australia. CC BC-NC-SA 2.5 AU.