Read all about it!

Mar 09, 2011
Read all about it!
Pliegos sueltos Diego Corrientes (S743.1.c.8.2). Credit: Reproduced by permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

A new study of wrongdoing and its cultures in Spain 1800-1936 will explore the fascination of popular versions of crime and other misdemeanours in ways that reflect also on our attitudes to crime in our time.

The flip side of contemporary fear of is our fascination with it. Repelled we might be, but the popularity of watching CCTV footage of real crimes or reading the latest salacious scandals in tabloids is testament to modern society's appetite for stories that shock.

This fascination with crime is not new; nor is the popularity of the materials that purvey it. Cambridge researcher Professor Alison Sinclair has set out to discover what Spain thought about wrongdoing between 1800 and 1936 by examining a wide range of sources, and in particular the equivalent of the mini-tabloids of the time - so-called chapbooks or pliegos sueltos - of which an extensive archive exists in Cambridge University Library.

Sold on street corners by hawkers and luridly illustrated, the sueltos carried vivid tales of the unlawful, the improper and the morally corrupt.

"Spain in the 19th century was chaotic and troubled. It has no literary work that is the equivalent of Dostoievsky's Crime and Punishment, and yet the figures for in the 19th century in Europe place Spain as one of the highest countries on the list," explained Professor Sinclair, whose three-year research project has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. "With their mix of fact and fantasy, the sueltos provide a window not only into wrongdoing at the time but also into its representation and the way people perceived it," thus complementing in a completely original way other literary and cultural representations of wrongdoing.

The sueltos spoke to an audience entranced by the exploits of such characters as Francisquillo the Tailor, a boastful chap whose scissors turn out to be his major weapon in a series of dramatic stand-offs about honour. A recurring (and real) character is Diego Corrientes, born in Seville in 1757, a Spanish Robin Hood figure who took from the rich and gave to the poor, and who died by hanging aged 24 years.

The archive also includes the tale of Rosaura, whose suitor persuades her into elopement, only to rape her, in company with his cousin, and leave her bound to a tree, where she is found by a passing huntsman. The University Library has at least six different versions of this story, with clearly varied takes on how to depict Rosaura's state of undress.

A key feature of the project will be to catalogue and digitise 4,470 sueltos held in the University Library and the British Library. Many are in an exceptionally fragile state and a goal of the project is to create a world-class and accessible collection, to be held in the University's central repository DSpace@Cambridge (

Clearly related to a specific time and place, the project raises questions relevant for modern society. As Professor Sinclair comments: "The research will help us to question, as cultural consumers, our excited and emotional responses to this sort of material, including processes of identification and voyeurism."

Explore further: Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

What your TV habits may say about your fear of crime

Feb 08, 2011

What's your favorite prime-time crime show? Do you enjoy the fictional world of "CSI" or "Law & Order," or do you find real-life tales like "The First 48" or "Dateline" more engrossing? Your answers to those questions may ...

Recommended for you

Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

Apr 16, 2014

Science has often come to the rescue when it comes to the world's big problems, be it the Green Revolution that helped avoid mass starvation or the small pox vaccine that eradicated the disease. There is ...

Japan stem cell body splashes cash on luxury furniture

Apr 14, 2014

A publicly-funded research institute in Japan, already embattled after accusing one of its own stem cell scientists of faking data, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on designer Italian furniture, reportedly to use up ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

( —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...