Catherine L. Evans
Fields of Study: Legal History; British Empire; History of Psychiatry
Advisor: Hendrik Hartog
I work on the history of criminal law in Britain and its empire. In particular, I study how medicine, and especially psychiatry, intersected with common law jurisprudence.
My dissertation, Persons Dwelling in the Borderland: Responsibility and Criminal Law in the Late-Nineteenth-Century British Empire, explores the problem of criminal responsibility through the lens of sensational murder and high treason cases in which the defendant’s sanity was in doubt. Criminal case records drawn from archives in Australia, England, Canada and the US form the core of the project. Criminal responsibility – the question of who should be subject to legal judgment and punishment – was controversial in the nineteenth century. Criminal anthropology and developments in medical thinking about insanity threatened to undermine the culpability of men and women who committed terrible crimes. The rapid migration of people around the British empire revived debates about cultural difference and the suitability of the common law as a framework for judging and punishing mobile, inscrutable and unfamiliar persons and peoples. Criminal responsibility was, in many ways, a conceptual problem, but it was also a concrete one, with potentially fatal consequences for the men and women whose fates were decided in imperial courtrooms, lunatic asylums, and government offices.
My broader historical interests include medicine and psychiatry, law, the social sciences, imperial bureaucracy and administration, and subjecthood. I am also interested in contemporary mental health and criminal law policy.
I am originally from Montreal, Québec. I received a B.A. Hons. in History from McGill University in 2008, and a B.A. in Jurisprudence from University College, Oxford in 2010. My general exams, passed in the spring of 2012, were in Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Law, Colonial Medicine, and the British Empire in the Nineteenth Century.