The Carceral Colony: The Role of Prisons in the Making of America


Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships for Recently Tenured Scholars




For residence at the Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science during academic year 2019-2020


This project seeks to complicate historical understandings of American freedom by focusing on an understudied form of unfreedom in colonial North America: imprisonment. That kind of bondage, common throughout the North American colonies, threatened the lives of every person within the colonial borders, even those whom scholars have taken to be “free.” Recovering the crucial role of imprisonment in the creation and solidification of colonial authority offers a story of penal continuity where many scholars have seen disjuncture. That continuity has relevance for critical prison studies today. Legal enslavement, the pillory, stocks, and public gallows, have been consigned to a past, now purportedly overcome. Prisons, however, are still part of the present. They have survived in large part because their history—their ties to an older, more barbaric past—has been erased. This project seeks to recover those ties and, in doing so, question the relationship between prison and modernity.