This essay traces the origins and development of criminology from Beccaria up to about 1940, exploring the intimate connection between criminological thought and the contemporary cultural and social climate. In various ways, all pre-criminologists were influenced by the early bourgeois image of man, with free will and character building as its central tenets. Professionalization coincided with a cultural turn that greatly reduced the role of free will in human behavior, stressing instead heredity or other fixed structures. The concept of a “quest for purity” typifies the cultural undercurrent beneath all criminological theories up to 1914. The essay closes with an examination of the development of professional criminology from the late nineteenth century on, concentrating on the discipline’s contrasting fate in Germany and the Netherlands and arguing that there was no straight line from late nineteenth-century ideas about degeneration and born criminals to the racist fallacies of the Third Reich.

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Spierenburg, P. (2016). The Rise of Criminology in its Historical Context. In The Oxford Handbook of the History of Crime and Criminal Justice. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199352333.013.20