Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST20M1: New Histories of American Prisons and Policing

Department: History

HIST20M1: New Histories of American Prisons and Policing

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 48 Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least ONE level 1 module in History


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to an understanding of modern US history and to examine some of these far-reaching and transformative developments.


  • The United States imprisons a greater share of its population than any other country in the world. How did a nation ostensibly dedicated to liberty become captor to so many of its inhabitants? In recent years, a burst of new scholarship has sought to understand the development of Americas carceral state. Historians have placed the prison squarely in the center of American political development, investigating its centrality to the American racial order and capitalist development. New studies of policing situate law enforcement in both metropolitan political dynamics and American foreign policy. Policing and prisons, in this literature, appear not as outgrowths of American social and political structures, but rather as productive of them. This course will engage students in cutting-edge research by exploring the new history of prisons and policing. We will read foundational theoretical and historical texts and the most current literature in the field, and take up emerging critiques of its arguments. At the same time, this course will inquire into the scholarly politics of disciplinary paradigm. are historians intervening in contemporary debates about the American criminal justice system? And where is this new scholarship headed? The course combines a significant amount of secondary reading and primary-source analysis.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Knowledge and understanding of historical developments of the political economy of policing and punishment in the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • Critical engagement with previous and current theoretical and historiographical debates on the history of policing and punishment
  • Critical use of historiographical and primary sources to develop independent lines of analysis on the history of American prisons and policing.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will develop their skills to evaluate both archival and oral historical sources.
  • Students will develop their skills to evaluate and analyse historiographical debates.
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
  • lectures to set the foundations for further study and to provide the basis for the acquisition of subject specific knowledge. Lectures provide a broad framework which defines individual module content, introducing students to themes, debates and interpretations. In this environment, students are given the opportunity to develop skills in listening, selective note-taking and reflection;
  • seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals.
  • Assessment:
  • Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge;
  • Summative coursework will test students ability to communicate ideas in writing, present clear and cogent arguments succinctly and show appropriate critical skills as relevant to the particular module.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 16 Term 1 1 hour 16
Seminars 7 Term 1 1 hours 7
Preparation and Reading 177
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 75%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3,000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 100%
Component: Assignment Component Weighting: 25%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Assignment or assignments 1,000 words total, not including footnotes and bibliography where relevant 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative work done in preparation for and during seminars, including oral and written work as appropriate to the module. The summative coursework will have a formative element by allowing students to develop ideas and arguments for the examination and to practice writing to similar word limits.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University