Laura Sellers

Laura Sellers

PhD Student

Summary: Nineteenth Century Science and Criminality


Thesis Title:

Managing Convicts, Understanding Criminals: Medicine and the Development of the English Convict Prison 1837-1886.

Thesis Overview:

The British prison system developed out of necessity, responding to changing attitudes to punishment and the end of transportation. At the start of the nineteenth century a medley of regional systems, different types of prisons and inconstant punishments could be found across England. By the end a more uniform, organised national system had been formed through experiment and policy change. My thesis shows that the creation and development of the English convict prison system depended to a significant extent on the medical men who were employed there.  It focuses on the practical work-lives of prison medical officers in Victorian government run convict prisons, demonstrating that they became central to how prisons were conceived and organized, and that, in so doing, they shaped the British understanding of the ‘criminal’ in the decades before the advent of criminology

Using five convict prisons across England my thesis argues that the prison medical officers changed the architecture, management and philosophy that shaped the developing prison system in an ‘experimental era’ for prisons. The chapters are both chronological and thematic, each chapter focuses on a specific convict prison and particular concerns of prison medical officers and administration at that time, each representing a new departure as new challenges arose. The intention to build a uniform system had to be rethought because of physical and mental health diagnoses made by the medical staff. Rebuilding and the separation and categorisation of people within the prison, based on medical concerns, which shaped British understanding of “the criminal”. 


Dr Jonathon Topham and Dr Mike Finn

Research Interests:

History of Medicine; History of Psychology; History of Psychiatry; History of Prisons; Nineteenth-Century; Museums of Science and Medicine; Material Culture 

Academic History:

MA History and Philosophy of Science, University of Leeds, 2012

BA (Hons) History and Philosophy of Science, University of Leeds, 2011

Teaching Experience (University of Leeds):

Lower Level Tutoring: "The Scientific Revolution", "Interpreting Technology", "History of Psychology", "Magic, Science and Religion", "History of Modern Medicine"

Upper Level Tutoring: "History of Psychiatry and Mental Illness", "Science, Society and Culture in the Industrial Age"

Guest Lecturer: "Introduction to History of Science"

Schools Workshops: “Victorian Surgery and Medicine”, “Ready, Steady, Curate”. I am currently developing three new medical history workshops for secondary schools.

Museum of History of Science, Technology and Medicine:

I am the assistant curator at University of Leeds’ Museum of History of Science, Technology and Medicine, and currently the acting director. I have volunteered with the museum for approximately six years. I am involved with most aspects of the museum including indexing the objects, conservation, creating exhibitions and pop up exhibitions, running schools workshops, doing museum tours, updating the museum blog, creating and updating the museum website and creating a leaflet to advertise the museum and guide visitors around the museum’s multi-site exhibitions. Recently I have renovated and redesigned the central museum space known as "the Gillinson Room" and I am involved in organising the "HPS in 20 Objects" public lecture series.

Online Presence:

Please see my blog  and follow me on twitter @LauraSellers11