While popular interest in notorious criminals and their deeds can be said to be perennial, ‘crime history’ and ‘criminal justice history’ were scarcely explored subjects in the 1970s. Over the past 50 years or so, however, the history of crime and criminal justice has matured into an internationally recognized field of research, and the British Crime Historians have been meeting regularly since 2008. The contribution of criminologists to the development of a historiography of crime and criminal justice remains a relatively under-explored topic in this burgeoning academic field. The purpose of this paper is to contribute to an understanding of the place of historical criminology within the historical study of crime. The paper traces the usage of the term ‘historical criminology’ – mostly in the English language – throughout the 20th century with the aim of developing a preliminary history of historical criminology.