The following new and revised courses will be offered at Wesleyan University as part of the Carceral Connecticut Project.
Race and Slavery in New England
This course will examine the central roles of slavery and settler colonialism in New England history, while also exploring how the Connecticut River tied Middletown to regional and even global currents of slavery and antislavery movements. Like in other New England ports, Middletown merchants made fortunes from the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the plantation economy, including the selling of enslaved Black and Indigenous peoples on Middletown’s Main Street. In the 1830s, Southern slaveholders were among the first Wesleyan students. Yet, with the gradual abolition of slavery free Blacks built a nationally significant neighborhood and independent church on land that is now part of Wesleyan’s campus, making this neighborhood (the Beman Triangle) a stop on the Underground Railroad and a center of the antislavery movement.
Through engagement with rich state and local archives, this course will use several case studies to examine how Connecticut’s carceral practices have made and re-made the state’s legacy of slavery and policed the borders of accepted gender and sexuality in this place nicknamed “the land of steady habits.” The Middlesex County Historical Society’s rich collection of late-19th and early-20th-century Middletown police logs, county jail records, and police court proceedings will enable students to analyze on-the-ground carceral practices in Connecticut. The Connecticut State Archives’ extensive state penitentiary records, pardon petitions, and other state-level records will enrich and contextualize the local picture in Middletown.
Policing in the United States
This course examines the history of policing in the United States, beginning with its 19th-century origins, modeled after the practices in England, and continuing to the contemporary moment. We shall investigate the theory and practice of policing in a number of domains and from different perspectives. These include examining the origins of the surveillance state and the creation of the FBI, the militarization of police forces, the role and experiences of Black police officers, and the complex relation of policing to social movements and issues of racial justice. The class concludes with a discussion of the Federal Government’s response, in the form of commissions to the systemic issues surrounding policing. (Photo copyright: Philipp Baer)
Citizens, Judges, Juries: Who Decides in Democracy?
The tensions between rule by the people, rule by elites, and rule of law are at the core of democratic theory. What is the proper balance among the three? Under what circumstances is one group of decision makers better than another? What happens when they come into conflict? We focus on the following topics: the role of voting in liberal democracies, the Athenian jury system, deliberative democracy, referendum and initiatives, civil disobedience, and the role of juries in the U.S. criminal justice system.
The Prison State: Race, Law and Mass Incarceration
Beginning with slavery and continuing through the rise of prisons, debt peonage, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, and the Black Lives Matter movement, the course will explore how efforts to police, detain, and control Black bodies have been at the center of U.S. law and legal practice since the nation’s founding, while also focusing on resistance and protest against these efforts.
Offered Fall 2023
Combining oral history, visual storytelling methods, and documentary performance in a workshop format, this course will reenact court transcripts and contemporary and historic testimonies related to guns and gun violence in America. These reenactments are based on testimonies and documents collected that interpolate the legal issues around guns in the U.S. and the impact of guns on American society, especially on women, children, and communities of color.
Visual Methods: An Introduction
Offered Spring 2022, Spring 2023
This course serves as an introduction to visual research methods for students looking to get to grips with the complex debates and ideas in visual analysis and interpretation. We will consider changes in visual and digital cultures and the new possibilities of visual engagement and communication. Students will learn and apply new visual theories and methods, and discover how scholars across the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields are making images as research data, using images to disseminate research findings, and weighing ethical considerations in visual research. We will also examine the history of photography as a pivot point between the worlds of analog media and digital media. Reflecting changes in the way society consumes and creates its visual content, it also includes discussions of visual methods for studying social media platforms, the development of digital methods and the modern circulation of research images, as well as interactive documentaries, digital story-telling and participant mapping. As a lab course, students will be able to undertake applied research which will enable them to deepen their engagement with a topic of their interest.
Guns and Society
Offered Fall 2022, Fall 2023
This course examines the changing place of guns in U.S. society, from the colonial era through to the present day. Readings and discussions consider guns both as material objects involved in specific ways of life and as symbols and sites of contested meaning in American culture. Projects explore how guns have been, and remain, intimately involved with questions of race, gender, class, labor, capital, war, resistance, repression, vigilantism and ideas of freedom and self-defense. Special emphasis is placed on student research in local archives and museums in the Connecticut River Valley, the nation’s historical gun manufacturing center. This course is accompanied by a research lab (taught separately for .25 credit), designed for students to delve into an individual topic or project with the guidance of a research assistant, postdoc, and/or the professor. This lab will result in a research paper, a theater sketch, a short documentary film, podcast, art project, museum exhibit, oral history project, and/or other project idea to be discussed.
Theorizing the City
Recent years have brought a shift to imagining the city, rather than the nation-state, as the primary allegiance for citizens, with its own unique set of challenges and responsibilities. What are our political and ethical obligations to the strangers with whom we co-exist in close proximity? Should cities be governed more democratically? This course examines topics such as income inequality, environmental justice, immigration, localism vs. cosmopolitanism, and public art.
Photography and the Law: Mugshots, Privacy and Publicity, Obscenity, Evidence
Offered Spring 2023
This seminar is designed as an introduction to the major developments in the legal history of photography in transatlantic (US..-UK.. especially) society from the first law cases involving photography in 1840 through to contemporary legal debates about such topics as cameras in the courtroom, sexting, surveillance, photographing police, dash cam and body cam videos, admissibility of photographs as evidence, obscenity and moral boundaries of subject matter, and copyright. A range of secondary historical and theoretical writings will anchor the discussions, but the course will focus primarily on student analysis and interpretation of primary and archival sources (texts of legal cases, law reviews and dissertation, news articles and documentary and video footage). Students will gain knowledge of how legal history has shaped the history of photography, and new perspectives on the historical origins of contemporary issues in photography and digital imaging. It should be of interest especially to history majors and non-majors who are interested in law, photography, and culture, and will also contribute to the “Visual and Material Studies” module in History.