Crime and the City

Susan Thorne
LS 780-88
Fall 2019
Mondays, 6:30 - 9:00 pm
Classroom Building 242 (East Campus)
Begins August 26 - Ends November 25 (no class on October 7)

The enduring power of Charles Dickens’ representation of urban crime was on regular display in the critical response to The Wire (HBO 2002-2007), which is regarded by many as still the “greatest television series of all time.” The series is a graphic representation of the horrendous violence generated by the war on drugs in Baltimore, Maryland, the “murder capital” of the United States.  It is difficult to imagine a world further removed from the Victorian nostalgia of the Dickens presented in Masterpiece Theatre much less Hollywood productions of Oliver Twist, the novel to which the series is most often compared.  Critics on both shores of the Atlantic have referred to The Wire as “Dickens for the 21st Century.”    “If Charles Dickens were alive today, he would watch The Wire, unless, that is, he was already writing for it.”  This course embraces the comparative invitation issued in such reviews.  It juxtaposes these two tales about crime as well as the very different cities in which each is set: early Victorian London and present day Baltimore, Maryland. In addition to these comparisons, we will also try to account for Dickens’ enduring relevance, the longevity of Dickensian ways of seeing crime, childhood, and the city.  Why—and how—does Dickens continue to matter? 




Informed participation in class discussions (30%)


Students are expected to view The Wire in its entirety (5 seasons, about 50 episodes) outside of class, while reading Dickens’s Oliver Twist, in addition to the interdisciplinary assortment of scholarly works and investigative journalism accessible via the class website.


Students will submit weekly paragraph to page reactions to each week’s reading assignments on discussion board forums (required but not graded)


Group project (30%) 

Research paper (40%)

About Susan Thorne

Susan Thorne, Associate Professor of History, teaches courses on the social history of Britain and the British Empire, and on the history of European expansion more generally. She is currently working on Charles Dickens’ influence on Anglo American “ways of seeing” the children of the urban poor.  The Dickensian Affect:  Reckonings with Reform in Early Victorian Southwark (in progress) juxtaposes Dickens’s representation of criminal poverty and urban childhood in his most popular novel, Oliver Twist (1837-8) to archival accounts generated by the poor law’s reform during the 1830s and hungry ‘40s.