About this course
Why Study the History of the Prison?
There’s much talk these days about “prison reform.” It can be confusing, since calls for reform come from sources as diverse as Kim Kardashian and the Koch brothers. It appears there’s no consensus about what prison reform is or about its goals.
A historical perspective helps to sort things out.
Prisons were invented in the 18th century as part of a broader movement to humanize England’s criminal justice system. By studying the interests that promoted the earliest prisons, considering the forms of punishment that prisons replaced, and examining how prisons evolved to become what they are today, you’ll be in a better position to critically assess—and weigh in on—current debates around incarceration.
One overarching question will guide our discussion throughout the semester: how should society approach serious wrongdoing? The final project invites you to present your evolving thoughts on that question.
What You’ll Learn
By the end of the semester, you should be able to speak confidently about the history of imprisonment and mass incarceration, hold your own in discussions about current conditions in American prisons, demonstrate understanding of some fairly complex philosophical arguments related to punishment and wrongdoing, and make informed decisions about legislation and policy related to these subjects. In short, you’ll be equipped to engage thoughtfully issues related to incarceration specifically and criminal justice more generally.
Because we are taking an interdisciplinary approach, you will also gain better understanding of the three disciplines in which this course is housed. You’ll learn about some important chapters in African-American history, get experience thinking like a historian and reading primary documents, and gain proficiency in interpreting site and building plans while learning to think sensitively about space and place. If you take this course for graduate credit, you’ll be required to write a research paper that connects aspects of the course content to issues in education or landscape architecture, the two departments that provide graduate credit options.
No matter what your position on incarceration is by the end of the semester, the hope is that you’ll be motivated to act. Prisons aren’t just an academic.
This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for
• Humanities - Hist & Phil
• Cultural Studies - Western
3 credit hours