Rebecca M. McLennan


Preston Hotchkis Chair in the History of the United States I

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


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)

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 & 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 (NYU Press, 2010)

"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 & 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).


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 & 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 (2012–2018)

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 (2012)

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.



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

Professor Rebecca McLennan


2224 Dwinelle Hall

Office Hours