Mothers of Crime: Family and the Making of the US Carceral State, 1877-2016


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Innovation Fellowships


African and African American Studies


In recent years, scholars have helped the public better understand how the United States came to incarcerate more people than any other country on earth. But carceral historians have not yet fully explored the importance of family to the history of criminalization and punishment. “Mothers of Crime: Family and the Making of the US Carceral State, 1877-2016” begins to fill this gap, guided by two interrelated questions: How do theories of punishment and rehabilitation implicate family life? How have individual families experienced and resisted punishment over time? While most historical scholarship on the carceral state tells a macro-level story, this project incorporates legal investigative training as well as training in micro, oral, and family history methods to unearth the experiences of individual people and families in prison archives. “Mothers of Crime” complements historical analysis with multimedia explorations of family life in the shadow of prison, including audio storytelling and archival collage.