Introducing “Disciplining The Nation”Historians in the News
tags: criminal justice, prison, Mass Incarceration, policing, primary sources, Crime and Punishment
A Teaching Aid and Documentary History of Policing, Incarceration, Criminalization, and Activism in the United States
For many years now, the Urban History Association and its conference has served as a type of home base for historians looking to explore and excavate the troubling histories of criminalization, policing, and incarceration in the United States. Since 2017, The Metropole has served as a home for “Disciplining the City,” a series that has given scholars from all fields and stages of career a space to articulate and discuss the complexities of racial state violence in its many forms.
As the series statement notes, the history of policing and incarceration in urban spaces is filled with both a continuity of violence and trauma, and also change over time. The U.S. carceral regime is not a naturally occurring phenomena. It is not an infallible institution that emerged and succeeded because of its common-sense framework or its success in providing safety. Rooted in racial slavery, settler colonialism, and U.S. empire, policing and incarceration in the United States were slowly and meticulously built over time for the purpose of subordinating, punishing, and exploiting populations –and historians have the documents to prove it.
As accessible as the growing field has become, with scholars writing for the public, running Zoom seminars, doing media appearances, and continuing on the traditions of great activist-scholars of the past, there is still more work to be done. That’s why we are introducing “Disciplining the Nation,” a series that we hope will be a teaching aid and documentary history illuminating some of the most influential trends, turning points, and ideas in the history of racial state violence, criminalization, policing, and incarceration, one primary source document at a time.
Inspired by the work of Nikole Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project, this project also endeavors to pair the words and documents of the people who built the criminal justice system with scholarly reflection and the analysis of activists, stakeholders, and affected individuals We want to make it accessible and easy for educators, community organizers, and learners of all kinds to expose students to the complicated, fallible, and long-obscured history of the U.S. carceral regime.
“We’ve all grown up on television shows in which the police are superheroes,” sociologist Alex Vitale said in a recent interview. “They solve every problem; they catch the bad guys; they chase the bank robbers; they find the serial killers. But this is all a big myth.” “Disciplining the Nation” hopes to give students, teachers, the incarcerated, and curious readers the resources to analyze and teach about the development of the criminal justice system well beyond the limits of the “big myth.”
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