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Keywords:

  • history of criminology;
  • James Cowles Prichard;
  • moral insanity;
  • Philippe Pinel;
  • positivism;
  • psychopathy;
  • Benjamin Rush

This paper raises questions about the origins, definition and nature of criminological knowledge by seeking to identify the earliest examples of scientific criminological thought. Pushing the story further back in time than previous studies of criminological history, it proposes a way to think about criminology before criminologists—that is, efforts to study crime scientifically before the emergence of specifically criminological discourses and before the formation of the professional specialization of criminologist. The roots of scientific criminological thought lie in late 18th- and early 19th-century discourses on the phenomenon of moral insanity, or uncontrollable, remorseless criminal behavior. Examination of these texts reveals both the origins of criminological knowledge and the birth of idea that crime can be studied scientifically.