Xavier Rousseaux

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2015/2016
discipline History
Research Director Université catholique de Louvain

Research project

From Revolutions to World Wars : Crime, Justice and the State in European Societies (1750-1950). Contribution to a Transnational Criminal History


The EURIAS project’s goal is to write the central part of a book, devoted to revolutions in the history of crime and justice in Western Europe and in its colonies from the middle ages up to the 20th century. The proposed synthesis will examine this “Western” globalization by comparing it with other legal cultures: Slavic Europe, the Muslim world, the Far East, The Americas. The specific project for 2015-2016 will address the crucial period of the transformation of European criminal justice, 1750-1950. Between the mid-18th and the mid-20th centuries, crime and justice underwent profound changes in Western societies. The agricultural and industrial revolutions, the bourgeoisies’ rise to political power, the acceleration of geographical and social mobility, the explosion of scientific knowledge, the modernization of political space and colonial wars put an end to the penal Ancien Régime. The “criminal question” will serve as a means of observing the evolution of European societies. The period was marked by the close links between state formation and public order (justice, police, punishment…), the modernization of public policies and the emergence of civil society, as well as tensions between authoritarian experiences and democratic models for regulating social problems. The project seeks to link three problems often treated separately: (i) state formation and the dynamics of contemporary society in its responses to crime; (ii) the extension of Western justice models through the creation of colonial empires; and (iii) the experiences of brutalization that Europe suffered during the two world wars. These major developments in the State's ever-widening monopoly over the right to punish generated varied reactions on the part of individuals, groups and communities (resistance, instrumentalization, compromise and submission). The analyses will thus take into account the different scales of such interactions (transnational, national, regional, and local), around five main processes of State involvement in the “criminal question”:

     (i) Describing crime and criminals: codifications, criminologies, investigations.
     (ii) Prosecuting crime and criminals: the time of the police.
     (iii) Regulating and judging crime and criminals: magistrates, courts and communities.
     (iv) Punishing crime and criminal: the penal system and its social roots.
     (v) Understanding crime: scientific debates and popular representations on the functions of crime in society.




Xavier Rousseaux is Research Director FRS-FNRS (Belgium) (Center for Law & Justice History) and professor at the Department of History  in the Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve. He holds a PhD in History from the University of Louvain-la-Neuve.

His main research and teaching areas are medieval, early modern and modern history, historical criminology, and historical sociology. He focuses in the following themes: crime and criminal justice in Europe from the Middle Ages (sources, methods, results), violence in Europe on the long run (norms, behaviours, societies), state construction and criminal justice in Western Europe (1300-2015), criminal justice history in Belgium (1795-2015), justice and politics : occupation(s), war and Justice 16th-20th c., and sociohistory and historical anthropology of social control.

Selected publications


'Conclusion. Némésis et Thémis : les transformations de la vengeance en Occident', with A. Musin, in C. Gauvard & A. Zorzi (eds), La vengeance en Europe, du XIIe au XVIIIe siècle, Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, Paris, 2015, pp. 319-339.


'Les derniers condamnés à mort dans la pratique pénale belge (1830-1962)', Beccaria. Revue d’histoire du droit de punir, no. 1, 2015, pp. 159-193.


'Le jury criminel sous le Consulat et l’Empire : bilan et perspectives d’une tentative d’harmonisation juridique en Europe', with E. Berger, in F.Antoine et al. (eds), L'empire napoléonien. Une expérience européenne ?, Armand Colin, Paris, 2014, pp. 227-250.


'Instruments de « politique criminelle », témoins de la justice ou reflets des désordres ? L’exemple des comptes du maire de Nivelles en Brabant (1378-1550)', in N. Demaret & A. Wirth-Jaillard (eds), Monuments ou documents ? Les comptabilités comme source pour l’histoire du contrôle social (XIIIe-XVIIIe siècle), Archives générales du Royaume, Bruxelles, 2014.


'Cold Cases ? The case files of the Ancien Regime and its uses', in H. Deceulaer, S. Dubois & L. Puccio (eds), L’affaire est dans le sac ! Dossiers de procès d’Ancien Régime et perspectives de recherche historique. ‘Het pleit is in den zak’! Procesdossiers uit het Ancien Regime en hun perspectieven voor historisch onderzoek, Archives générales du Royaume, Bruxelles, 2014, pp. 251-272.


 'Les espions civils au service de l’ennemi, au prisme de la justice militaire belge. L’autre versant de la guerre de l’ombre (1914-1920)', with M. Bost & S. Horvat, Revue Belge d'Histoire Contemporaine, vol. 44, no. 2-3, 2014, pp. 10-49.


'A history of crime and criminal justice in Europe', in S.Body-Gendrot et al. (eds), The Routledge Handbook of European Criminology, Routledge, London/New York, 2013, pp. 38-54.
















junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Literature
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Psychology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Art History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Anthropology