The purpose of this section is to offer occasional profiles of archival collections related to Irish criminal and penal history. These broad areas break off into a wide range of sub-themes. So for instance, when we study and try to understand criminality we are
potentially looking at court proceedings, prison records, poverty, penal files, newspaper reporting, judicial statistics, deviant behaviour, family and community history, gender, execution and transportation. When we look at imprisonment we find ourselves thinking about sentencing, living conditions, institutional regimes and punishments, deprivation, prisoner reform, gender, execution and deviant behaviour. Notice the overlaps? The themes are almost infinite.
The sources for criminal and penal history allow us a degree of understanding about the past even if we do not want to draw conclusions on these themes themselves. For example, by examining the trial of a woman accused of neglecting her children through drunken behaviour in the tenements of early twentieth-century Dublin we can discover several truths unrelated to crime or punishment. These can include poverty, familial relations, gender roles in the domestic setting, marital relations, the state of housing, the living conditions of children, unemployment and domestic abuse.