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Discipline and Punish: Crime and Criminality in Early America

ENGL 016.301
instructor(s):
TR 3-4:30

With more than 1.3 million people in domestic prisons, and an increasing number of people in its detention centers abroad, the United States has come to be know around the world as a leader in imprisonment. This situation has a history which this seminar will examine by reading the literature of crime in early America. We will read 17th, 18th, and 19th-century fictional and political texts written about crime and by criminals-texts about pirates, capital punishment, riots, revolutions, slavery, and prisons. Along the way, we will also read one of the most influential 20th-century theories of criminality, Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975). Our task will be to understand how the very ideas of crime and the criminal were re-formulated between the 17th and 19th-centuries, and to see how Foucault's text can help us in this understanding. We will also consider what this history tells us about our current moment. We will pay particular attention to the criminalization of racial minorities, women, and poor people by slavery, colonization, and capital accumulation. This will be an interdisciplinary course combining literature, history, and political theory. It will also take advantage of the historical resources of Philadelphia, a key city in the history of early American criminality, by researching local archives as well as the Eastern State Penitentiary, one of America's earliest modern prisons.