The penitentiary system in early America exploited racist ideologies, gender norms, sexual desire, and antipathy towards the poor to justify its existence and expansion. The use of incarceration grew as women, enslaved people, and indentured servants—those previously with no legal standing— increasingly claimed their own right to life, liberty, and happiness. In this pattern, we see a precursor to the dramatic growth of the US prison system in the last 40 years.
Jen Manion is associate professor of history at Amherst College and author of “Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), which shows how racialized and gendered ideologies of freedom, resistance, desire, and dependency shaped the creation of the penitentiary system in the U.S.
Manion is co-editor of “Taking Back the Academy: History of Activism, History as Activism” (Routledge, 2004) and has published essays in TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society and Radical History Review.
Presented by the History Department's Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series.