JCW |Biography

The short version

Early life


Graduate School


Just vanity, you might be thinking? Perhaps, but a little introduction is probably not a bad thing. Neither, for that matter, is a little vanity.

If you're just looking for the basics, see "The Short Version." If you're interested in more of the story (but not the whole story by any means) please follow the other links to the left.

If you want to know more, please do get in touch.

The Short Version:

  • Born: 1970, LaGrange, IL, USA
  • Education: B.A. History (Northern Illinois University); M.A. and Ph.D. British History (University of Maryland, College Park)
  • Places I've lived: Downers Grove, IL; DeKalb, IL; Silver Spring, MD; Riverdale, MD; Greenbelt, MD; College Park, MD; Kew, London, UK; Baltimore, MD; Trier, Germany; Bayreuth, Germany; Mainz, Germany
  • Occupation: Historian
  • Interests: history, literature, film, Darwinism, songwriting
  • Current location: southwestern Germany


Early life: 1970-1988

Me with new friend I was born and raised outside of Chicago, spending my first eighteen years in the suburb of Downers Grove. My first seven years' experience with an education system was at Lester School, which was conveniently across the street and which I mainly recall for its excellent chocolate milk. I then spent two years at Herrick Junior High, marked by the unsettling dual onset of puberty and persistent bullying. Just in time for that great series of John Hughes films (most of which were set in and around Chicago, but which matched my own experiences only very slightly) I moved on to Downers Grove North High School, where I graduated, mostly intact, in 1988. My later fascination with British history began early, influenced by frequent family travel to my mother's home in southwest England and my father's insistence that we visit nearly every location where William III had spent the night (or, indeed, had a bite to eat).

I had a happy childhood due to the able and experienced management of my parents, the support of my four siblings and a seemingly endless supply of Legos. My interests in these years (besides building, destroying and rebuilding countless structures made of tiny, primary-colored bricks) included an eventually massive Matchbox car collection (which I'm still pleased to own, but if you're looking for anything in particular, let me know and we can make a deal), spending inordinate amounts of time playing Dungeons & Dragons (no, I'm not ashamed) and reading. Beyond ensuring that I tended toward pale skin and sensitivity to bright sunlight (and having several friends in a similar condition), these years prepared me well for a scholarly career. Nonetheless, during high school, I thought I'd eventually go into one of the following professions: photographer, graphic artist, environmental activist, helicopter pilot. Yes, things were a little confusing between 1984 and 1988. Thus, I was as surprised as anyone when I found that I had checked the "Please choose a major" box on my university application next the word "history."

Undoubtedly, the low point of these years (and, indeed, of any since then) was watching my father's courageous, but ultimately unsuccessful, battle with cancer.


University: 1988-1992

I attended Northern Illinois University, in the sleepy but very charming (and unbelievably corn- and soybean-rich) town of DeKalb. Though originally an agricultural college, NIU had grown a lot, and its history department proved to be a very challenging-yet-comfortable home. Under the mentoring of several inspiring historians (most notably Marvin Rosen, William Beik and Meg and C. H. George) I began to think that my decision to study history was something more than a mere lapse in reason. Influences on my thinking at this time included the historians E. P. Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm.

To help pay for that sparkling education I worked a variety of jobs: library assistant, bookshop assistant, recycling truck driver and radio announcer (for WNIU).

I also became heavily involved in the sometimes tense, sometimes silly but always entertaining world of campus political activism. NIU, at least in those days, possessed a fairly well developed left-wing political culture despite its reputation as a "hotbed of rest." Fond memories from this period include organizing assistance for the miners in the (successful) Pittston coal strike, protesting (futilely as it turned out, but hey, we tried) against the Gulf War and helping to arrange a lecture by Robert Meeropol, one of the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Along with academics and politics, I helped to form the band "Jake," for which I played guitar and sang. My share of band duties only increased as we shrank from a quintet to a trio, ultimately failing in our goal of making DeKalb into something like what Seattle was soon to become. Truth be told, we even failed to put out an album, though we had some good local gigs in places that have now mostly closed down. Some years later, other members of the group reformed as "The Ether," which was much, much better and had a good run on the Chicago music scene. If there is enough call (and, um, financial backing) for a Jake reunion tour, I think I could just be persuaded.

I received my B.A. in History from NIU in May 1992.


Graduate School: 1992-2001

Thanks to a university fellowship, I was able to attend the University of Maryland, College Park. Leaving Illinois was, at first, difficult, but I soon adapted to, and then came to love, the east coast. My historical interests quickly turned toward criminal history, resulting in my M.A. thesis, "Bound for England: Returned Transports at the Old Bailey, 1718-1789" based largely on primary sources available at the Library of Congress in nearby Washington. I received my M.A. in 1994.

Moving into the Ph.D. program, I continued to develop my interests in the history of crime, becoming increasingly interested in the work and theories of Norbert Elias and Michel Foucault. I became a teaching assistant in the history department. (If any of those students--at least the good ones--happen to find this, I'd love to hear from you.) Having finished the nightmare known as "comps" (the comprehensive Ph.D. exams), I focused in developing my dissertation, on the nineteenth-century history of violence in England. Research brought me to London twice for extended research stays where my work concentrated on the resources of the Public Record Office and the British Library (both the old and the new one).

While at Maryland, I worked at the Library of American Broadcasting/National Public Broadcasting Archive, a fascinating place run by some very dedicated people.

In the spring of 1998, I moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where I found an apartment in the incredibly unique and wonderful Mount Vernon neighborhood. I worked in the private sector (sometimes freelance) to support the completion of my dissertation, and Baltimore quickly become "home," bringing with it a wealth of new friendships and experiences. (Some of these connections you will find in the "Personal" section, under "Friends and Family".) In 2001 I completed the Ph.D. with my dissertation, "'The Shadow of Our Refinement': Violence, Custom and the Civilizing Process in Nineteenth-Century England" (now available as a book).

In early October 1999, attended a cultural studies conference in Miami, where I met a German academic who would very soon change my life in all kinds of wonderful ways, not least since she was the reason I moved to Germany.


Germany: 2001-

After completing my Ph.D., I moved from Baltimore to Trier in June 2001. Since moving here, I've become fluent in German and have been developing my academic writing and other projects. In October 2002, I began working as an English lecturer in the Sprachenzentrum (language center) of the University of Bayreuth. There, I developed a three-stage course in legal English as well as courses on media and on American culture. Along with teaching and writing, I have also been involved with several freelance translation and editing projects in both the public and private sectors.

In the summer of 2004, my book, Violence and Crime in Nineteenth-Century England: The Shadow of Our Refinement was published by Routledge

From the beginning of 2004, to late 2005, our main place of residence, however, was Mainz. In late 2005 we moved to a lovely small city on the Rhine, and around the same time, I became a researcher in the Department of History at The Open University in Milton Keynes, UK.

In January 2011 I took up a new post as 'Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter' at the Institute of European History in Mainz.

In September 2012, my second book,The Most Remarkable Woman in England: Poison, Celebrity and the Trials of Beatrice Pace, was published by Manchester University Press.