Dark Markets Observatory

Smugglers. Corrupt officials. Dark markets in public goods and contraband. My research reconstructs the history of clandestine markets in early modern England and its empire. 

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Using machine learning and visualization technologies, my research is reconstructing contraband networks in early modern Britain


Fountains Hall, Yorkshire

Built by Sir Stephen Proctor

Visit Fountains Abbey where Proctor built his stately manor.

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Corruption in Early Modern England

My forthcoming book project The Invisible Handshake: Discovering Corruption in the Early Modern State (Oxford University Press) follows the career of an early seventeenth century corruption hunter, Sir Stephen Proctor (1562 - 1619) and the conspiracy that eventually destroyed him. 


A story of corruption and conspiracy, ambition and violence, the book reveals the limits of reform in the early modern state, and the growing influence of anxieties about corruption. This timely study examines the corrosive effect of charges of corruption on political compromise and stability. 

The Smugglers' World

My research on early modern smuggling reconstructs contraband networks around the British Isles and the Atlantic.

I explore the political economy of smuggling: why states tolerated contraband, why there was often a business case for merchants to engage in trafficking, and why some jurisdictions specialized as waypoints for those avoiding taxes. Many of these same places remain tax havens today.

My research on brandy smuggling is now available at the historical journal Past & Present.

I am also at work using handwriting recognition technology to transcribe records from parliament's smuggling inquest of 1733. This investigation produced reports of all persons prosecuted for smuggling in England from 1723-1732. The database, which will be publicly available when completed, provides information on enforcement, penalties, and criminal networks. 

Visualizations help makes this data accessible. The map on this page shows the number of prosecutions by English county for brandy smuggling during the 1720s, demonstrating locations of particularly intensive enforcement (darker greens represent a higher number of prosecutions).