Have you ever wondered what elections during the 19th Century were really like?
A team from our School of Government and International Affairs (SGIA) have created an interactive map showing the violence during elections in England and Wales.
The map is part of a three-year project entitled The Cause and Consequences of Electoral Violence: Evidence from 19th Century England and Wales.
The team, assisted by over 50 undergraduate and postgraduate research assistants, used a sophisticated computer-assisted search strategy to search over 35 million digitized articles and official documents for mentions of election violence and plotted them on a map with short descriptions.
Election violence had a variety of causes and people would use sticks, bludgeons and even dead animals, such as cats and rabbits, as weapons. Commonplace amongst the various causes of election violence was the hiring of roughs from outside the constituency by candidates or their agents to prevent opponents voting, the disenfranchised engaging in violent behaviour to influence the outcome, and the carnivalesque atmosphere of polling days fuelled by candidate-sponsored alcohol.
In the 1847 Chepstow election, for example, a young surgeon died because the crowd became overly excited by the arrival of a beer wagon.
The data collection, which took over 6,000 hours, was only possible due to the availability of and the rapidly increasing digitalisation of newspaper articles, as well as parliamentary papers and records.
The process was further complicated due to partisan trenched newspaper reports and ‘fake news’ articles, something which is commonly associated with the digital age rather than the 19th Century. Because of this, the team had to double check each report against official records.
Understanding the causes and consequences of 19th Century election violence and how it was eradicated holds important implications for our understanding of British democratic development and current debates on the state of democracy in Britain and around the globe.