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10 cp from 100-level units in History or Politics and International Relations or Sociology

Unit rationale, description and aim

Social historians are keenly interested in ways to study the past 'from below': that is, from the perspectives of the criminalised or marginalised, and from other people whose voices are difficult to find in the historical record. The unit offers students the opportunity to explore Australia's past 'from below' through a focus on criminal cases, controversies and characters between the early colonial period and the late twentieth century. Students will engage closely with a range of primary sources relating to these cases or individuals, acquiring hands-on experience of the practice of social history in the process. Students will also gain insights into ideas and process relating to the history of crime and punishment in Australia's past.

The aim of this unit is to provide students with a sound appreciation of issues relating to crime and marginalised people in Australia's past, and with a wide range of methods and sources used by 'historians from below'.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Discuss theoretical and factual knowledge relating to the development of crime and social history in Australia, and an awareness of historical debates surrounding these aspects of Australia’s past (GA4, GA6)

LO2 - Communicate clearly in written and/or oral form, in a style appropriate to a specified audience (GA9) 

LO3 - Locate, use and appropriately reference a variety of primary and secondary materials relevant to the history of crime and marginalised people in Australia to develop an evidence-based historical narrative or argument (GA3, GA8, G10) 

LO4 - Apply critical reading skills to your understanding of the history of crime and marginalised people and the methods that historians have used to research these aspects of Australian history. (GA4, GA5) 

LO5 - Interpret and reflect on key ethical and historical debates relating to the history of crime and marginalised people (GA3-6) 

Graduate attributes

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


This unit uses a selection of Australian criminal cases, controversies and marginalised characters in order to explore ‘history from below’ and crime and punishment in Australia’s past. The topics considered in relation to these characters may include:  

  • events in the convict transportation and gold rush eras 
  • issues related to the death penalty 
  • frontier violence 
  • the treatment of young people 
  • policing 
  • the rise of organised crime, and perceived rises in crime 
  • crimes related to sex and sexuality 
  • gun ownership 
  • the relationship between crime and all or some of the following: gender, the media, race, ethnicity and class.  

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This 10 credit-point unit embraces active learning by engaging students in activities in a face-to-face setting. Its activities are designed to enable students to:  

  1. gain a deep understanding of the content covered in this unit; and 
  2. develop skills fundamental to the discipline of history. 

The active-learning techniques and activities used in this unit include reading, writing, discussion, debating, advanced techniques in identifying and using primary and secondary souces, additional techniques of analysis used by social historians, and the development of an independent research project. In addition, students will use case studies to assist them in this process (in this case, criminal cases or controversies from Australian history), exploring how what they have learned applies to real world situations.  

This unit has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit, as described in the learning and teaching strategy and the assessment strategy. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support your learning such as lectures, tutorials, reading, reflection, discussion, film screenings, skills workshops, and assignments etc. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

A range of assessment procedures will be used to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. In the history discipline, second year units are designed to include a selection of the following assessment tasks: 

  • Active research tasks that require students to find and use primary and secondary sources 
  • Digital search techniques for online archives and/or digital newspaper databases 
  • “Hands on" Historical methods such as oral history or using material objects/archaeological evidence  
  • Research Essay/Challenge  
  • In-class debates or team challenges 
  • Forums/Blogs/online discussion 
  • Short answer responses 
  • Short quizzes/In-class tests 
  • Tutorial assignments/presentations 

Assessment in this unit has been designed to assist students to develop and demonstrate:  

  • theoretical and factual knowledge about crime and marginalised people in Australian history, and critical readings skills when engaging with literature / films and documentaries / podcasts on this topic; and  
  • skills in designing and executing a primary source-driven research project that explores Australian history ‘from below’.  

The assessments have been developed sequentially to this end. The first two assessments take the form of knowledge and skills development tasks. The last assessment is a research project that draws on insights and techniques acquired during the previous tasks. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Knowledge Development Task 

The purpose of this task is for students to develop critical reading and listening comprehension skills, and to apply knowledge from readings and lectures. 


LO1, LO2, LO3 

GA4, GA5, GA8

Historical Skills Development Task 

The purpose of this task is for students to build up skills working with primary and secondary sources to produce an evidence-based historical argument or narrative.


LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5

GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10 

Research Task  

The key purpose of this assignment is for students to produce an evidence-driven written, digital, material or oral argument (as directed by the lecturer) relating to Australian ‘history from below’, in the process demonstrating critical reading skills, an awareness of relevant historical debates and of the methods used by social historians.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5 

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8, GA9, GA10 

Representative texts and references

Bellanta, Melissa, Larrikins: A History (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, (2012).  

Cunneen, Chris and White, Rob, Juvenile Justice: Youth and Crime in Australia, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). 

Evans, Tanya, Fractured Families: Life on the Margins in Colonial New South Wales (Sydney: NewSouth, 2015).  

Frances, Raelene. Selling Sex: A Hidden History of Prostitution (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2007). 

Lincoln, Robyn and Shirleene Robinson (eds, Crime Over Time: Temporal Perspectives on Crime and Punishment in Australia (Newcastle-on-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2010). 

McCalman, Janet, Struggletown: Public and Private Life in Richmond (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1984). 

Nettelbeck, Amanda and Robert Foster, In the Name of the Law: William Willshire and the Policing of the South Australian Frontier (Kent Town SA: Wakefield Press, 2007). 

Poynting, Scott and George Morgan, Outrageous: Moral Panics in Australia (Hobart: ACYS Publishing, 2007).  

Reynolds, Robert and Shirleene Robinson, Gay and Lesbian, Then and Now: Australian Stories From a Social Revolution (Melbourne: BlackInc Books, 2016).  

Stubbs, Julie and Stephen Tomsen (eds), Australian Violence: Crime, Criminal Justice and Beyond (Sydney: Federation Press, 2016).  

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