Department of American and Canadian Studies


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Vivien Miller

Professor of American History, Faculty of Arts



Current Post:

As of September 2020, I am Professor of American History in the Department of American & Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham. I joined the University of Nottingham as an Associate Professor in September 2007. Before that I was a part-time lecturer in US History, teaching Gender in Early America in the Politics and History section of Brunel University Business School. Between 1993 and 2006 I taught at Middlesex University, first in American Studies and then in History, latterly as Principal Lecturer in American Studies and History.

I received my PhD in History from the Open University in November 1998 where I was a doctoral student with Professor Clive Emsley. I spent four years at the OU doing my PhD by part-time study as I was working full-time at Middlesex University. My PhD thesis on "Violence, Crime and Executive Clemency in Florida 1889-1918" became my first book, published by University Press of Florida in 2000. My MA History is from the Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, where I was also a Graduate Teaching Assistant, and an Oral History Project Researcher. My major field was US History since 1865 and minor field was West European History. In between my MA and PhD studies at the OU, I spent one year at the University of Kansas as a PhD student in History, and as a Graduate Instructor teaching level 1 US history modules. My major field at KU was US History (the whole lot!) with minor fields in Modern Britain, Modern Latin America, and American Studies. My BA (Hons) Combined Studies (History and Politics) is from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

I am happy to supervise MA and PhD projects on a variety of topics in 19th and 20th C social, criminal justice and legal history. I have been an External Examiner for several PhDs, including a PhD by publication, and for MRes degrees. I was also undergraduate external examiner for History at: Anglia Ruskin University, the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, and the University of Edinburgh.

In February 2012, James Campbell at University of Leicester and I secured an Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) award of £23k to set up an interdisciplinary transnational research network called "Translating Penal Cultures" (RA0170) which led to publication of Vivien Miller and James Campbell, eds. Transnational Penal Cultures: New Perspectives on Discipline, Punishment, and Desistance, Routledge SOLON Explorations in Crime and Criminal Justice Histories, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015).

Expertise Summary

  • US Capital Punishment
  • Crime including vitriol throwing/acid crime
  • Policing
  • Prisons
  • Prisoners
  • Criminal Justice

Teaching Summary

Main teaching:


This module can cover the history of crime and punishment in British Colonial North America and the United States, from the 17th C to the early 21st C. It looks at the shift from public to "private" punishments, including the early nineteenth century "invention" of the penitentiary, police, the emergence of regional differences in rates of violent crime and official responses, the origins of a federal war on crime in the 1920s and 1930s, and the rise of mass incarceration from the 1990s. There is particular emphasis on how race, gender, class, and region have shaped responses to violence, crime and disorder, and attitudes toward offenders. Most recently, several readings focused on the history of crime and punishment in the 19th & 20th C American West, and the module content centered on the period c1850s through to the later 20th century. Topics included the Homicidal Gold Rush, Women in 19th C and 20th C prisons, "White Slavery", Policing during the Civil Rights years, and Prisoner Protests.


This module explores the United States' bold but disastrous experiment with Prohibition during the period 1918 to 1933, with particular focus on crime, disorder and policing. It begins with 19th C gendered drinking cultures, the saloon, the emergence of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and the rise of the Anti-Saloon League. We examine the reasons for passage of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act which outlawed the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol but also covered a small but highly regulated legal liquor trade. We explore the impact of state and national prohibition on politics, economics, entertainments and leisure cultures. We consider whether there was a "typical" bootlegger - from desperate cash-strapped widows to male millionaires, the changing vice trades and the rise of the syndicates, the gangster and flapper archetypes, and finally the inglorious end of Prohibition.

Research Summary

Current research interests:

  • Vitriol-throwing in 19th and 20th C United States
  • Female Killers in early 20th C American South
  • Capital punishment and capital offenders in the post-World War II Southern region/Sunbelt America
  • Crime and punishment in 19th and 20th Century Florida
  • Race, gender, class and intersectionality in southern violence, crime, criminal justice, law, punishment and penal practices c1870-1970
  • Late 19th and early 20th Century transnational penal cultures

My research interests lie in the histories of violence, crime, and criminal justice in the United States, particularly the south-eastern region or "the South" from the post-Civil War era to the present. Most of my published work to date has focused on Florida, the third most populous state in the US with a huge prison population and often controversial death penalty practices.

I am currently working on the history of vitriol throwing or acid crime in the 19th and 20th C United States with particular emphasis on gender and female vigilantism and serial male offenders. This work in progress was presented in "Vitriol Throwing in Victorian America," Peter Parish Lecture, British American Nineteenth Century Historians (BrANCH), University of Warwick, 8 October 2021.

I have another ongoing project in progress, which has been severely disrupted by covid, on the history of capital punishment in Florida c1924-1976 with particular focus on the moratoria period of 1964-1976. A related journal article project focuses on Female Killers in 1920s Florida.

Other research interests include gender and organised crime in the 20th C United States, and global histories of prison labour.

Past Research

Hard Labor and Hard Time in Florida's "Sunshine Prison" and Chain Gangs (UPF 2012) is a social history of Florida's prison system during the first half of the twentieth century which focuses on prisoners and their prison experiences on the chain gang and at the state prison farm in the decades before the civil rights and prisoner rights' movements. It charts the origins and evolution of Florida's state prison farm and road prisons, and explores the different forms of inmate labor, the punishment regimes, inmate resistance and accommodation, as well as their relations with the guards and superintendents. Hard Labor and Hard Time: Florida's "Sunshine Prison received a BAAS Book Prize Honourable Mention in 2013.

Shorter projects have focused on elite jewel thieves and resort crime, ransom kidnapping in 1930s Florida, more contemporary forms of punishment in the United States, including the revived chain gang of 1990s Florida, Alabama, and Arizona, and the military prison at Guantanamo Bay and its similarities to the domestic "supermax" prison.

Crime, Sexual Violence and Clemency (UPF 2000) was the first state-based historical study of executive clemency. From 1889 to 1918, more than 11,000 persons were convicted and sentenced to hard labour in Florida's convict lease camps. There were four routes to freedom: expriation of sentence, death, escape, and pardon. By comparing letters, petitions, and endorsements from prisoners and their supporters, the study showed that Florida's penal system and pardon board reinforced white male middle-class dominance and restricted the freedom of African American and lower-class white offenders, but at the same time offered opportunities for early release. Whereas most studies of southern crime and criminal justice had focused on the arrest, trial and sentencing stages, this study followed the cultural prejudices through the post-conviction stages. It showed that notions of respectability and proper behaviour were interpreted and selectively applied but were integral to the approval or denial of applications for mercy.

Future Research

Publications include:


David Brown, Simon Middleton, Thomas Heinrich, and Vivien Miller, A Concise American History (Routledge, 2020)

Vivien Miller and James Campbell, eds. Transnational Penal Cultures: New Perspectives on Discipline, Punishment, and Desistance, Routledge SOLON Explorations in Crime and Criminal Justice Histories, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015)

Vivien M. L. Miller, Hard Labor and Hard Time: Florida's "Sunshine Prison" and Chain Gangs, (Gainesville, F.L.: University Press of Florida, 2012).

Vivien Miller and Helen Oakley (eds), Cross-Cultural Connections in Crime Fictions, (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

Vivien M. L. Miller, Crime, Sexual Violence, and Clemency: Florida's Pardon Board and Penal System in the Progressive Era, (Gainesville, F.L.: University Press of Florida, 2000).

Chapters & Articles:

'"A ringer was used to make the killing": Horse Painting and Racetrack Corruption in the Early Depression-Era War on Crime' Journal of American Studies, 55/5 (Dec 2021): 1153-1177.

'Whatever happened to the southern chain gang? Reinventing the Road Prison in Sunbelt Florida,' in Robert T. Chase, eds. Caging Borders and Carceral States: Incarcerations, Immigration Detentions, and Resistance, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019), 211-241.

'Hanging, the Electric Chair, and Death Penalty Reform in the early twentieth century South,' in Amy Louise Wood & Natalie J. Ring, eds., Crime and Punishment in the Jim Crow South, (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2019), 170-191.

'Race, Crime and Segregation,' in Jonathan Daniel Wells, ed. The Routledge History of Nineteenth Century America (New York and London: Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2018), 292-306.

'"It doesn't take much evidence to convict a Negro": Capital punishment, race, and rape in mid-20th-century Florida,' and 'Introduction,' Crime, Histoire et Sociétés/ Crime, History & Societies Special Issue: Reforming, Debating and Enforcing the Death Penalty in Mid-Twentieth Century Europe and North America, 21/1 (Jan 2017).

'Reflections on the Chain Gang and Prison Narratives from the Southern United States,' in David Nash and Anne-Marie Kilday, eds., Law, Crime and Deviance since 1700: Microstudies in the History of Crime, (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016).

'"A perfect hell of misery": real and imagined prison lives in an "American Siberia",' in Vivien Miller and James Campbell, eds. Transnational Penal Cultures: New Perspectives on Discipline, Punishment, and Desistance, Routledge SOLON Explorations in Crime and Criminal Justice Histories, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015).

"Respectable white ladies, wayward girls, and telephone thieves in Miami's "Case of the Clinking Brassieres",' Tequesta LXXIV (2014): online version.

'Family Tragedy and FBI Triumph in the "Southland": the 1938 Kidnap-Murder of James Bailey "Skeegie" Cash Jr.,' Journal of Southern History 79/4 (Nov 2013): 841-878.

'The life and crimes of Harry Sitamore, New York "Prince of Thieves" and the "Raffles" of Miami,' Florida Historical Quarterly 87/3 (Winter 2009): 378-403.

Department of American and Canadian Studies

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Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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