Organised Crime in USA (HIC2324)

StaffDr Kristofer Allerfeldt - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

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 organized 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.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed understanding of the main themes, purposes and varieties of organized 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

  • 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

  • 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. These will include 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
22 1280

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Lecture11One per week: 11 thematic evaluations of major issues in the history and interpretation of American organised crime
Seminar11One per week: prepared discussion questions given on ELE to be presented and debated in seminar groups

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 902,000 words1-5Written comments and verbal feedback on request
Seminar Participation1011 x 1 hr seminars. One percent per weekly seminar 1-6Attendance mark and verbal feedback.

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay and Seminar ParticipationEssay 2,000 words1-5Reassessment Period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

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)

ELE – College to provide hyperlink to appropriate pages

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Web based and electronic resources:

American Mafia -

Chicago Crime Commission

FBI's Organized Crime Page

The Literature of the American Gangster

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)

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Crime, Progressive Era, 1920s, USA