HL90 ES: Prison Abolition

Tomorrow is the deadline to apply for an HL90 seminar this spring! Read more about Thomas Dichter’s returning class, “Prison Abolition”:

Tell us about your class!

This Mindich Engaged Scholarship course will give students an opportunity to apply historical and literary methods to studying the prison abolitionist movement, while also getting hands-on experience working with primary historical materials and conducting oral history interviews. Alongside our readings and class discussions, students will work in small teams to build an online archive documenting local prison organizing history.

How will this class help students understand the present?

The idea of prison and police abolition has garnered a lot of public attention in recent years, and since 2020 especially. But these ideas didn’t just appear that summer, and in fact there have been other times, like the 1970s, when the notion that prisons might be abolished received remarkably widespread support. We’ll also explore different social movements that many prison abolitionists have drawn on for inspiration or claimed as political ancestors. 

Do students need any particular experience or familiarity with this material to take the class?

Nope! Everyone is welcome, whether you’re new to thinking about these issues or you’re a committed prison abolitionist. I really want the class to offer something to everyone, and for everyone to be able to offer their own perspective to our collective exploration of this complex and difficult topic.

What are the assignments like?

Rather than ending the class with a long seminar paper, this course has a handful of shorter written and collaborative assignments. For one thing, your archival digitization and oral history work will count towards your grade, and you’ll have opportunities to reflect on it in writing. You’ll work with a team to scan and organize pieces of the 1973 Walpole Prison Takeover Archive, and you’ll conduct an oral history interview with a person who participated in those events. There will be also some writing assignments to practice key close reading and historical contextualization skills.

How can students find out more about the class?

You can reach me at dichter@fas.harvard.edu with questions or see the syllabus on the Canvas page.

Published by Hist & Lit

Committee on Degrees in History & Literature at Harvard University

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