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Prison Nation: The Rise of Mass Incarceration in t, Topics In History (392-0-26)


Charlotte Emily Rosen

Meeting Info

Online: Tues, Thurs, 9:30AM - 10:50AM

Overview of class

The United States holds only 5% of the worlds' population but imprisons 25% of the world's incarcerated people, with one out of five prisoners in the entire world located in the United States. Moreover, as activists and scholars have long made clear, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people are disproportionately ensnared in this system of mass imprisonment. How did the United States become a prison nation? And how can this history help us make sense of contemporary movements against racialized state violence?

To answer these questions, this course asks students to explore two core and interrelated threads in the history of mass criminalization and incarceration: 1) The central institutions, actors, and ideologies that propelled the development of the modern United States carceral regime 2) The actors, organizations, and movements who fought against the ascent of the prison industrial complex. In braiding these two histories together will, we will consider questions such as: What is the relationship between mass imprisonment and the history of white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, imperialism, and trans- and queerphobia? What is historical role and function of police, courts, and prisons? How did imprisoned people and their allies understand the emergent crisis of mass imprisonment, and how did they resist an increasingly normative "tough-on-crime" politics that sanctioned ever-expanding racialized state violence? And most importantly: how does historicizing the carceral state's development and the prisoner-led movements against it matter for contemporary debates about policing and punishment, and for our understanding of United States politics more broadly?

Learning Objectives

Articulate historical arguments about the origin(s), purpose(s), and effect(s) of United States policing, criminalization, and imprisonment; Speak confidently about the history of prisoner movements and the Black imprisoned radical tradition, including its relationship to the broader postwar Black freedom struggle; Interrogate concepts like "crime" and "criminality" and assess the historical development and presumed neutrality of the criminal punishment system in the United States; Analyze primary sources and link your analyses to broader debates or concepts in the course; Write clearly about the connections between historical interpretations of the United States criminal punishment system and present day political debates, policies, and social movements

Evaluation Method

Op-Eds (2): 15% each, 30% in total; Primary Source Analysis: 15%; Class Participation: 20%; Critical Questions: 5%; Final Project (research paper, policy brief, or zine): 30%

Class Materials (Required)

All texts will be available on Canvas.

Class Notes

History Area of Concentration: Americas

Class Attributes

Historical Studies Distro Area
Synchronous:Class meets remotely at scheduled time