Crime and Punishment and Power in American History


Spring 2017
141 Giannini
Day & Time: 
TuTh 2-3:30
Class Number: 

This upper division lecture course explores the history of the modern American criminal justice system and the people who have shaped and been shaped by its colossal, life-altering powers. We begin by examining three distinct spaces in which new ideas about crime, policing, race, and punishment were articulated and given material force after the American Revolution: the prison, the city, and the slave plantation. From there, we’ll trace the emergence of a new law enforcement state in the early 20th century, and assess the extent to which earlier ideologies and practices influenced this fledgling system. History is rarely a straight or unbroken line from past to present, and the history of American criminal justice is no exception: we’ll also study alternative practices of policing and corrections that were, if only for a moment, politically viable and even quite popular during America’s “Unfinished Revolution” (Reconstruction), the Progressive Era, and the Long Civil Rights Era. Turning in the last few weeks of the semester to the “post-industrial” era (1970s to the present), we’ll examine the retreat from earlier decarceration policies and the move to mass incarceration, “zero tolerance” policing, and the War on Drugs. Finally, as part of our effort to think historically about crime, punishment, and the possibility of change, we’ll meet two filmmakers whose new documentary, Last Day of Freedom, powerfully draws the historical connections among war, crime, and capital punishment.