The idea of being a "political prisoner" may seem timeless. If someone was imprisoned for his or her political beliefs, then that person is in some sense a "political prisoner." Think of the Tower of London and its various occupants. But, as Padraic Kenney
points out in his fascinating new book Dance in Chains: Political Imprisonment in the Modern World
(Oxford University Press, 2017), the modern reality of what we might call "political prisoner-ship" is very different and very modern. He shows that you really couldn't have modern political prisoners until you had all kinds of other modern institutions, most importantly, the modern state-run prison, the modern mass press, and more generally, modern political movements (think parties, nationalist movements, revolutionary causes). These things came together to produce a kind of incarceration that was essentially a political statement made by the prisoners to whomever might listen. Kenney does a wonderful job of explaining how this form of extreme form of political protest evolved in the 19th and early 20th century. He gives lots of fascinating examples from all over the globe: Russia, Poland, Ireland, Germany, South Africa, among others. And, yes, the United States right now. What are, he asks, the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay but political prisoners? Listen in.