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May 15 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm CDT

Speaker Series: Dan Berger

History, University of Washington, Bothell
"What We Talk About When We Talk About Prison (Or, How Prison Explains the United States)"
Hybrid: Virtual/In-Person (ABF Offices, 750 N Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor Chicago, IL)

The facts of mass incarceration in the United States are well known. Yet many of the distinguishing features of mass incarceration, including its racism and severity, have been foundational elements of the US prison system. At the same time, incarcerated people have consistently shown prison to be a microcosm of the social and political divisions of society overall. In this talk, Dan Berger previews his current book project, Prison: A History of the United States. A sweeping history of how the United States has been made and remade through prison, the book endeavors to tell an incarcerated people’s history of the country from settlement to the present. Following the experiences of incarcerated people across a diverse and evolving set of prisons, Berger addresses how a country that takes “freedom” as its beacon has been defined by its absence.

To register, contact Sophie Kofman at skofman@abfn.org


Dan Berger is a Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Scholarship He is an interdisciplinary historian of activism, Black Power, and the carceral state in twentieth-century U.S. history. His research pursues a human accounting of how freedom and violence have shaped the United States. Much of Berger’s work is located in critical prison studies, including the diverse ways in which imprisonment has shaped social movements, racism, and American politics since World War II.

His latest book is Stayed on Freedom: The Long History of Black Power Through One Family’s Journey, which is a biography of the modern Black freedom struggle through the lives of Zoharah Simmons and Michael Simmons. Published in 2023, the book has already been hailed as “a triumph in storytelling” (Hanif Abdurraqib) and a “rare, intimate portrait … that will join classics on this period” (Imani Perry). Berger’s other books include Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, which won the 2015 James A. Rawley Prize from the Organization of American Historians; Rethinking the American Prison Movement, coauthored with Toussaint Losier; and Remaking Radicalism, coedited with Emily Hobson.

Berger co-curates the Washington Prison History Project, a digital archive of prisoner activism and prison policy in our state. He writes often for public audiences in Black Perspectives, Boston Review, Truthout, and the Washington Post, among elsewhere. At the UW, he is an affiliate member of the Center for Human Rights, the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, and the UW Seattle Department of History, and he co-directs the UW Bothell Labor Colloquium. Beyond the university, he is on the advisory or editorial boards of the American Prison Newspaper Project, The Global Sixties, the Journal of Civil and Human Rights, and the Justice, Power, and Politics book series at UNC Press.