Rebecca M. McLennan

Associate Professor
Office Hours: 
On Leave for Spring 2018
2224 Dwinelle
(510) 642-1436
  • Doctor of Philosophy, with distinction, History, Columbia University (1999)
  • Master of Philosophy, History, Columbia University (1993)
  • Master of Arts, History, Columbia University (1991)
  • Bachelor of Arts, with First Class Honours, History, University of Otago, New Zealand (1989)
Research Interests: 

North America since 1607:

  • American history in a global context • Law and society • Crime and punishment • Incarceration • Capitalism • Environment • Global history of foodways • Social theory •

Faculty Appointments 

  • Associate Professor, Department of History, UC Berkeley (2007-present); affliated faculty, Jurisprudence and Social Policy, Berkeley Law (2015-present).
  • Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of California, Berkeley (2003 – 2007)
  • Dunwalke Associate Professor of History and Associate Professor of Social Studies, Harvard University (2003 -2004)
  • Assistant Professor of History and of Social Studies, Harvard University (1999 – 2003)


  • The Wild Life of Law (in progress)

  • Becoming America: A HIstory for the 21st Century  (with David Henkin; McGraw-Hill, 2014) 

  • The Crisis of Imprisonment: Protest, Politics, and the Making of the American Penal State, 1776 – 1941(Cambridge History of American Law series, Cambridge University Press, March 2008) 

Articles, book chapters, and reviews 

  • "The Empire of Law Goes to Sea: The Bering Sea Conflict, c.1893," Diplomatic History (special issue on ocean governance; forthcoming 2018)
  • "Mare Clausum: U.S. Jurisdictional Claims in the Bering Sea, 1885-1893," Looking for Law in All the Wrong Places, eds., Marianne Constable, Leti Volpp, Brian Wagner (New York: Fordham U. Press, forthcoming, 2018)
  • Response, in The Will to Punish, by Didier Fassin (2016 Tanner Lectures), Oxford University Press (forthcoming, 2018)
  • "America's Human Rights Crisis in Historical Perspective," Social Justice 42: 2 (2016).
  • "Why Prison Stories Matter" (2014), Public Books
  • “When Felons Were Human” (2011), On the Human, National Humanities Center (featured contributor).
  • “The Convict’s Two Lives,” in David Garland and Michael Meranze, eds., Rethinking the Death Penalty in Historical Context (forthcoming, 2010, NYU Press)
  • “Imprisonment’s ‘Square Deal’: Prisoners and their Keepers in 1920s New York,” Journal of Urban History 28: 5 (Jul. 2003).
  • “The New Penal State: Globalization, History, and American Criminal Justice, c. 2000,” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (Fall, 2001).
  • “Revolutions and Rights,” and “Equality and Citizenship,” Contemporary Civilization Reader, 7th ed. (New York: Heritage Press, 2000).
  • “Writings of the American Revolution,” Contemporary Civilization Reader, 6th ed. (New York: American Heritage, 1997).

Distinctions and Prizes

  • 2009 John Philip Reid Book Award for best book in English in Anglo-American Legal History (American Society for Legal History).
  • 2009 Cromwell Book Prize for best first book in American legal history (William Nelson Cromwell Foundation).
  • Littleton-Griswold Prize in American Law and Society (for The Crisis of Imprisonment), American Historical Association, 2009.
  • Bancroft Award (best doctoral dissertation in historical studies, 1999, Columbia University).
  • Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities (1996-7).
  • President's Fellowship, Columbia University (1991-5).
  • Richard Hofstadter Fellowship, Columbia University (1990-91).
  • Fulbright Travel Scholarship (1990) (declined).
  • Commonwealth Scholarship (1990) (declined).
  • New Zealand University Grants Committee Postgraduate Scholarship (1990) (declined).
  • New Zealand Universities Junior Scholarship in Economics, English Literature, History, History of Art, and Pure Mathematics (1985).
Representative Publications: 


  • Slavery in Effect: A History Design Studio Briefing (prod., Vicent Brown, 2016, guest scholar)
  • KQED, Life of the Law, Episode 113: Locking People Up (2017, guest scholar)
  • KQED, Life of the Law Episode 114: Life at San Quentin (2017, guest scholar)
  • Humanities Advisor, Living Connection (Academy Award-nominated film production company; producers Last Day of Freedom)
  • Humanities Advisor, San Quentin Marathon (documentary film in progress, dir. Christine Yoo, expected 2018)

Selected Papers and Theses

  • Response to Didier Fassin, "The Will to Punish," 2016 Tanner Lectures, UC Berkeley, April 12-14, 2016
  • The Use and Abuse of History (response to Jonathan Simon, Mass Incarceration on Trial), Berkeley Law, UC Berkeley, Sept. 2014.
  • “Justice (Again) Accused: Law, Incarceration, and the New Abolitionism,” Scope of Slavery conference, Harvard University, Nov. 7, 2014.
  • “Circuit Justice: Federal Courts, Legitimacy, and the Empire of Law in the Early Republic,” Center for the Study of Law and Society, Berkeley Law, UC Berkeley, Oct. 20, 2014,
  • “Legally Speaking: Performing Law in the Early Republic,” 19th Century U.S. History Workshop, Georgetown Institute for Global History, Georgetown University, April 4, 2014.
  • “Living Law in Early America: Towards a Cultural History of Jurisdiction,” Yale Law School, March 25, 2014.
  • “Law-mongers, Pettifoggers, and Gentlemen of the Bar: Contesting Law in the Early Republican America,” Columbia University, March 2012
  • “The Convict’s Two Lives,” The Davis Center for Historical Studies, Princeton University, October, 2011
  • “Politics, Law, and the State in U.S. history: the New Political History”” Columbia University, May 2011.
  • “Ghosts of Penal Servitude: Lineages of the Mass Carceral State,” (forthcoming) OAH, 2010.
  • “American Penal History and The Crisis of Imprisonment,” University of Minnesota, Department of History, Legal History Workshop, 2009.
  • “Civilizing the Market, Disciplining the State/Rethinking American Penal History” University of Oxford (May 26, 2008), and University of Sydney, Spring 2008 (same official title, two different papers).
  • “The Market and the Prison,” NYU School of Law, Fall 2007.
  • “Civiliter Mortuus: The ‘Civil Death’ Penalty Reconsidered” (in progress), NYU School of Law, 2007.
  • “Between Social Death and the Gallows: the Necropolitics of Imprisonment in Nineteenth-Century America,” Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians, 2005.
  • “‘Slaves of the State:’ The Politics of Penal Servitude in Late Nineteenth-Century America,”Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association, Chicago, 2004.
  • “The Rise of the American Penal State,” University of Chicago, 2003.
  • “Identity, Gender, and the Market: Global and Local Discourses of the U.S. Christian Right,” Comment,Annual Meeting of the American Studies Association, 2002.
  • “Documenting Prisoners,” Comment, Why We Write conference, Columbia University, 2002.
  • “The Crises of Imprisonment: Toward a Critical History of Punishment,” American Bar Foundation, Chicago, 2002.
  • “Four Strikes and You’re Out”: America’s First War on Crime,” Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians, 2002
  • “The Decline and Fall of the American Prison,” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Conference on Globalization, Fukuoka, Japan, 2000.
  • “Saving Justice from Democracy: Progressive Era Prison Reform Reconsidered,” Columbia University Seminar on 20th Century Politics and Society, 2000 and theAnnual Meeting of the American Historical Association, 2000.
  • “Citizens and Criminals: Penal Justice and the Rise of the Modern Liberal State,” York University, Toronto, Canada, 1998.
  • “The Strange Career of American Race Ideology,” Canterbury University, Christchurch, 1998.
  • “Citizens and Criminals: Prisons, Violence, and the State, 1890-1940,” Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians, 1997.
  • “Discipline and Assault: the Everyday Practices of New York State Prisons in the Progressive Era,” Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, 1996.
  • “Psycho-asthenics and the Body Politic in Progressive America,” Figuring U.S. Culture Conference, Columbia University, 1995.
  • “Bodies on the Borderline: the 'Menace of the Feebleminded' and the Social Body in the Progressive Era,” Annual Meeting of the American Studies Association, 1994.
  • “‘Derelict Upon the Ocean:' the Theorizing of Feeble-mindedness and the Borderline Case in
  • Progressive America,” (unpublished Masters essay), Columbia University, 1991.


Recent courses (2012-18)

  • Historical Ecologies: Nature, Law, and Capitalism (graduate research seminar)
  • Bodies, Boundaries, and Belonging: Law in Historical Perspective (graduate seminar, with Karen Tani, Berkeley Law)
  • Making Property: Land, Labor, and Law in Early America, 1491-1900 (seminar)
  • North American Historiography (introductory graduate seminar)
  • North American Legal History to 1861 (graduate seminar)
  • U.S. Legal History (grad. research seminar)
  • Law and Society in the Long 19th Century (senior thesis seminar)
  • Foodways: A Global History 1491-present (gateway lecture course, co-taught with 
    Prof. Victoria Frede)
  • Food in American History (senior thesis seminar; historiography seminar)

Established courses

        UC Berkeley

  • The Rule of Law in International Historical Perspective (grad. seminar)
  • Crime, Punishment, and Power in American History (lecture course)
  • Law, Morality, and the Market: U.S. Legal History, 1607-present (senior thesis seminar)
  • Post-Civil War US Historiography (graduate seminar)
  • Land of Desire: Selected Topics in US Cultural History (undergrad seminar)
  • American Modernity Revisited (grad. research seminar)
  • US History Survey, 1877 – 1941 (lecture course)
  • America’s “Dark Flower”: The Prison in American Politics, Law, and Society, 1945 – present (seminar)

        Harvard University

  • The Rule of Law: Social Theoretical Debates (junior tutorial)
  • Imagining America: Foreign Perspectives on the U.S., Revolution - present (with Prof. Akira Iriye, lecture course)
  • Punishment and Modern Society (with Prof. Dani Botsman)
  • Crime and Punishment in American History, 1607-present (lecture course)
  • Social Studies 10 (Social Theory, Smith - Habermas), (sophomore tutorial)

        Columbia University

  • Contemporary Civilization I (Plato - Locke) (seminar).
  • Contemporary Civilization II (Rousseau - Foucault) (seminar).
  • Crime and Punishment in American History (seminar, Summer School)

Administrative Service (Select)

UC Berkeley:

  • Member, African History Search Committee (2015-16)
  • Member, Departmental Nomination Committee for Ehrman Chair in European History (2014)
  • Chair, U.S. Search Committee, Department of History (2013-14)
  • Member, Senate Committee on American Cultures (2012-15)
  • Departmental ad hoc personnel committees (2012-13; 2013-14)
  • Organizer, Edible History: Feast, Famine, and Fast (mini-conference), Department of 
    History (2012)
  • Member, Ad hoc search committee, Latin American History, Department of History 
  • Chair, Academic Events (2011-13) 
  • US Field Coordinator (2010-11)
  • Member, Graduate Advisory Committee, Department of History (2008-12)
  • Chair, Academic Prize Committee, (2008-09)
  • Graduate Advisory Committee (2008-09)
  • University-wide Ad Hoc Personnel Committees
  • Member, U.S. Search Committee, US and the World (2007-08)
  • Member, Graduate Admissions Screening Committee (2007-08; 08-09; 11-12; 12-13)
  • Member, CHUM/Committee on Undergraduate Matriculation (2004-6)
  • Administrator, Undergraduate Travel Grant Award (2004-06)


  • Head Tutor, Junior Tutorial Program, Social Studies, Harvard, Fall 2000-Spring 2002
  • Member, Joint Search Committee, History and Social Studies 

Selected Professional Experience

  • Member, Law and Humanities Working Group, Townsend Center for the Humanities, 
    UC Berkeley (2014; 2016)
  • Editor, History Digest, UC Berkeley Department of History (2011-13) 
  • Co-organizer, “New Voices in American History,” speaker series, UC Berkeley History Department (2008-present, with David Henkin)
  • Address, Graduate Student Association, UC Berkeley, 2009
  • Co-organizer, “Innovating U.S. History: New Approaches to the American Past,” Faculty Workshop,
  • Harvard University, 2001-02 (with Sven Beckert)
  • Faculty Advisor, Athena (Feminist group working with teenage girls in the Boston area), 2000-02
  • Principal Organizer, “Figuring U.S. Culture,” American Studies Symposia,
  • Columbia University, 1994-5.
  • Co-founder and Organizer, History and American Studies Group. A student-faculty group sponsoring
  • interdisciplinary seminars and colloquia on History, Cultural Studies and American Studies, 1994-9.
  • Member of the Executive, Otago University Students Association, 1987.
  • Member of the Media Board, Otago University Students Association, 1987.
  • Disc jockey, Radio One, Dunedin, New Zealand, 1986-8.


  • French

Boards & Related Service

  • Tanner Lectures on Human Values, UC Berkeley selection committee (2017- )
  • Editorial Board, Law and History Review (2012-)
  • Selection Committee, Hurst Institute for Legal History
  • Reviewer, Oxford UP, Cambridge UP, NYU Press, U. Penn Press, Routledge, and U. of Virginia Press.

Non-professional Associations

  • Dolphin Swimming and Boating Club, San Francisco
  • Sierra Club