The History Department is launching a new initiative aimed at exploring how the past informs current efforts to remediate urgent social concerns, and is beginning by examining criminality and correction. The new Social Issues and Historical Contexts initiative, funded by a three-year, $200,000 grant from an anonymous donor, recognizes that in recent decades, professional scholarship in history has tended to shift from national, political, and period-specific investigations to transnational and transhistorical issues common to human experience across time and space.
“Historians work in the past, but they work about the present,” said History Professor Carol Neel, who coordinates the program. “Few issues in the United States today are as wrenching as mass incarceration. How did we get to a point at which more than two million Americans, overwhelmingly Americans of color, are in prison? What are the alternatives? How can we follow this issue — this crisis — back through historical notions of power, punishment, and the meaning of bodily confinement?” Neel said.