Jen Manion

Liberty's Prisoners

Carceral Culture in Early America

University of Pennsylvania Press 2016

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Public PolicyNew Books Network December 19, 2016 Lilian Calles Barger

Jen Manion is an associate professor of history at Amherst College. Her book Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press,...

Jen Manion is an associate professor of history at Amherst College. Her book Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) offers a detailed examination of how the reform regimen of incarceration developed as the new American nation was experiencing deep social and political transformation. The place of women, African-Americans, immigrants and the poor was recast by new attitudes toward maintaining the social order through the patriarchal family, heterosexual regulation and the property system. Penitentiaries were designed to replace harsh British methods of corporal punishment with republican reform for those accused of property crimes, vagrancy, and public disorder. Reform was imposed through a system of work and submission to disciplinary authority. Within the walls of the prison, women approximated the model of domesticity and submission, while men faced the challenge of demonstrating manly responsibility within a system of denigration. Both men and women charged with crimes resisted the imposition of gender expectations and social hierarchies making their own claims to liberty. Manion not only looks at the gender dynamics but also how race and ethnicity shaped the experience of prisoners as potentially good citizens. By examining the social history of a failed penal system, Liberty’s Prisoners offers a window into the gender and race system of the new republic.


Lilian Calles Barger, www.lilianbarger.com, is a cultural, intellectual and gender historian. Her current book project is entitled The World Come of Age: Religion, Intellectuals and the Challenge of Human Liberation.

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