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History of Homicide Database

August 6, 2014

A database of homicides in Europe since the year 1200 may help explain extremely long-term trends.



Homicide through the ages. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The murder rate in Europe has dropped twenty-to thirty-fold since the Middle Ages. To understand why, researchers are building the History of Homicide Database, which incorporates evidence going back to the year 1200. According to University of Cambridge criminologist Manuel Eisner, the records are now rich enough to look not just at general trends, but at changes in the nature of murder.

MANUEL EISNER (University of Cambridge):

For instance, in the Middle Ages, and until the 19th century, a very large proportion of victims of homicide would not die on the spot, but it would take them hours or days before they died from the wounds that were inflicted on them.

Among other things, that suggests that medical improvements may have helped bring down the murder rate in recent centuries. Eisner’s looking at a wide range of social and political factors like these that may have driven the overall decline. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.