Historical Violence Database

A Collaborative Research Project on the History of Violent Crime, Violent Death, and Collective Violence

Dedicated to the memory of Eric Monkkonen



  • Eric Monkkonen - Department of History & Policy Studies, University of California at Los Angeles
  • Cornelia Hughes Dayton - Department of History, University of Connecticut
  • Kenneth Wheeler - Department of History, Reinhardt College
  • James Watkinson - Research Librarian, Library of Virginia
  • Robb Haberman - Department of History, University of Connecticut
  • James M. Denham - Department of History, Florida Southern College
  • Glenn McNair - Department of History, Kenyon College
  • Carolyn Conley - Department of History, University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Roger Lane - Department of History, Haverford College
  • Gilles Vandal - Department of History & Political Science, University of Sherbrooke
  • Terri Snyder - Department of American Studies, California State University at Fullerton
  • Clare V. McKanna, Jr. - Department of History & American Indian Studies, San Diego State University
  • Jack Marietta - Department of History, University of Arizona
  • G. S. Rowe - Department of History, University of Northern Colorado
  • Pieter Spierenburg - Department of History, Erasmus University
  • Mary Beth Emmerichs - University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan
  • Leigh B. Bienen - School of Law, Northwestern University
  • Barbara Hanawalt - Department of History, Ohio State University
  • Kevin J. Mullen - Police Department, City of San Francisco
  • Jeffrey S. Adler - Departments of History & Criminology, University of Florida
  • Philip J. Schwarz - Department of History, Virginia Commonwealth University.
  • James Campbell - Department of American Studies, University of Nottingham
  • Petula Iu, Department of History - University of California at Los Angeles
  • James Rice, Department of History - State University of New York at Plattsburg
  • Howard Brown - Department of History, State University of New York at Bingamton
  • Andrew Stickley - School of Social Sciences at Södertörns Högskola (University College of South Stockholm)
  • Michael D. Maltz - Department of Sociology, Ohio State University
  • Paul Gilje - Department of History, University of Oklahoma
  • Peter Turchin - Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut
  • Richard McMahon - Department of History, Stanford University
  • John Coombs - Department of History, Hampden-Sydney College


Our goal is to create a collaborative database on the history of violent crime, violent death, and collective violence from medieval times to the present. Historians, social scientists, and genealogists must work together if we are to gather enough data to allow researchers to describe accurately the history of violence. No single researcher or group of researchers can examine enough sources in enough jurisdictions to achieve that goal. We are confident, however, that an ongoing, collaborative effort can.

We envision the Historical Violence Database as a complement to the computerized databases on crime and mortality that have been maintained by the World Health Organization since 1950, and by the United Nations, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Institutes of Health since the early 1970s, and to the database that will be created by the new National Violent Death Reporting System at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in Atlanta, Georgia. In future years, the NVDRS will gather up to 200 details on each violent death in the United States (including, for instance, for each case of homicide, the length of the gun barrel if a gun was used, the level of education of the victim and perpetrator, whether drugs or alcohol were involved, etc.). Our historical database cannot be as comprehensive because of gaps in the historical record and because of omissions (sometimes deliberate) by record keepers. The historical record is more complete, however, than many people realize. People in the medieval and early modern periods, like people today, were deeply concerned about violent crimes, violent deaths, and collective violence. They kept abundant, if incomplete records of each. In many instances, statistical methods can estimate the number of cases that are missing from the surviving records (Eckberg 1995, 2001; Monkonnen 2001a). And the surviving records can be supplemented by the findings of forensic archaeologists, who can estimate the incidence of certain kinds of traumatic injuries from skeletal remains (Larsen 1997; Walker 1997, forthcoming; Roth 1999, 2001a). Our hope is that historical research, statistical analysis, and forensic science will enable researchers to trace the history even of such elusive crimes as child murder and spouse abuse.

If you would like to participate in the project or contribute data from completed or future research, please contact Randy Roth (roth.5@osu.edu) or Doug Eckberg (eckbergd@winthrop.edu), our co-directors.

For a scholarly introduction to the database, please see:

Randolph Roth, Douglas L. Eckberg, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, Kenneth Wheeler, James Watkinson, Robb Haberman, and James M. Denham. 2008. “The Historical Violence Database: A Collaborative Research Project on the History of Violent Crime and Violent Death.” Historical Methods 41:81-97.


The purpose of the Historical Violence Database is to help scholars better understand violent deaths (homicides, suicides, accidents, casualties of war), serious assaults (attempted murders, sexual assaults, arsons, maimings, aggravated assaults), and contentious political action that leads to violence. The database will allow social scientists to test their theories of violent crime, violent death, and collective violence in a variety of historical circumstances. Many theories concerning, for instance, the relationship between capital punishment and homicide rates, or the relationship between guns laws and armed robberies, fail once they are forced to confront data from 1930s and 1940s, rather than the 1980s and 1990s. The database will also allow historians to share their research so that others can build upon it. Many historians who have written on violence (usually on the state or county level) have failed to preserve their notes or share their research. Thus, their evidence cannot be checked for accuracy or reanalyzed. We hope that the Historical Violence Database will help social scientists transcend the limits of contemporary data and historians the limits of irreproducible local studies, so that we can better describe and explain the history of violent crime, violent death, and collective violence.