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Study information

Organised Crime in USA

Module titleOrganised Crime in USA
Module codeHIC2324
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Kristofer Allerfeldt (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

A quick glance at the internet and popular media will show that histories of organised crime seem to have the answer as to why the Mafia flourished, or why it was that New York Jews or San Francisco Chinese could produce a genuine shadow economy in the early decades of the 1920s. Most of these provide simple answers to this complex problem: most of them are wrong. This module aims to contextualise and analyse the reasons why the US developed such a healthy, unchecked and notorious organised criminal world. It aims to achieve this by expanding the parameters of what is normally termed “organised crime” beyond the usual gangster/Mafia/mobster typecasts and looking at the relations between crime and business; crime and politics; crime and urbanisation and crime and policing. By combining this with an examination of the ethnic, class and geographic drivers for criminal behaviour it will examine why all these elements combined to produce what seemed like an efflorescence of syndicated and organised crime in the early years of twentieth century America.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This course will look at this fast moving and controversial period of American history from several very different angles. Obviously dealing with the criminal underclasses, it will also examine the motives, methods and narratives of those who exposed, punished, interacted and celebrated them and the ways in which they evolved over these years. The course materials will be a combination of thematic lectures and highly structured seminar-debates on the standard preconceptions of early organised crime. These seminars will revolve around formative, small scale, group presentations based on primary and secondary source questions set every other week. These may be literary sources, cartoons or even film clips. They could also be short primary readings – newspaper articles, criminological or historiographical interpretations. Topics which I aim to cover are such wide themes as the origins of the American Mafia; the impact on criminal organisation of alcohol and narcotics prohibition; democracy and the emergence of gangs – as well a variety of other controversial topics.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of the main themes, purposes and varieties of organised in the US, as well as a deeper knowledge of the subjects selected for essays
  • 2. Develop the ability in both written and oral contributions to place organised crime in its historical and historiographical context and draw conclusions from its development

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Develop the ability to analyse and critically and contextually reflect upon historical texts relating to a specific historical period or theme, as well as collate data from a range of both primary and secondary sources
  • 4. To understand and develop the usage of subject specific language and key concepts, to enable engagement with the debates in the evolution and interpretation of a highly controversial historical phenomenon.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Show evidence of ability to read and use texts and source materials critically and empathetically
  • 6. Present material for group discussion and have respect for others' reasoned views and with limited guidance, gather and deploy material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument

Syllabus plan

Lectures and seminars will examine a wide variety of issues. Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • An initial background narrative history of the period
  • Definitions and parameters of organised crime
  • Aspects of organised crime – prohibitions and mass-availability
  • Capitalism, democracy and American organised crime
  • The growth of ethnic and regional gangs
  • The urban and rural differences
  • Criminal behaviour and industrialisation
  • Mass media
  • Reactions to organised crime – social bandits and public enemies
  • Reportage of organised crime – moral panics and wars on crime

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching10Lecture: 10 thematic evaluations of major issues in the history and interpretation of American organised crime. One per week.
Scheduled learning and teaching10Seminar: Prepared discussion questions given on ELE to be presented and debated in seminar groups. One per week.
Guided independent study130Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Weekly seminar questions – prepared and answered in groups10-15 minutes per week1-6Discussion

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 903000 words1-5Written comments and oral feedback on request
Seminar participation1010 x 1 hour seminars. One percent per weekly seminar1-6Attendance mark and oral feedback.

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (3000 words)1-5Referral/deferral period
Seminar ParticipationRepeat Study/Mitigation1-6N/a

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Kristofer Allerfeldt, Crime and the Rise of Modern America 1865-1941 (NY, 2011)
  • Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920 (Cambridge, MA, 1978)
  • Mike Dash, The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia (London, 2009)
  • Timothy J Gilfoyle, A Pickpocket’s Tale (NY, 2007)
  • Kevin Kenny, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires (Oxford, 1998)
  • Robert M Lombardo, The Black Hand (Chicago, 2010)
  • Salvatore Lupo, History of the Mafia (NY, 2010)
  • Humbert S Nelli, The Business of Crime (London, 1976)
  • Charles van Onselen, The Fox and the Flies (London, 2007)
  • Mike Woodiwiss, Gangster Capitalism (NY, 2005)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Boardwalk Empire (HBO, 2010-2012)
  • G-Men (Warner Bros, 1935)
  • The Godfather (Paramount Pictures, 1972)
  • The Public Enemy (Warner Bros, 1931)

Key words search

Crime, Progressive Era, 1920s, USA

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date