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States of Incarceration

June 21, 2016

Headshot of Brianna Wilson

Headshot of Brianna Wilson
Photo: Matthew Weber, CLAgency

Challenging dialogue and thought-provoking assignments are the hallmarks of the curriculum in the Department of History. More than just traditional lectures, notes, and quizzes, coursework in history seeks to broaden the viewpoints of students so they can become aware of the histories that have shaped people across the globe. Students who participated in Professor Kevin Murphy’s fall semester class, Public History: Public Memory and Mass Incarceration, had a unique opportunity to contribute their voices to the national dialogue on incarceration.

The class was designed to introduce students to the practices of public history–history aimed at a wide public audience and often created in collaboration with the historical actors themselves–and specifically to look at the history of incarceration in the United States, which has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The class focused on the incarceration of American Indian people in the Minnesota region.

Students’ final projects were submitted to a collaboration between 20 universities called “States of Incarceration.” Organized by the Humanities Action Lab at the New School for Social Research, this collaboration launched a national traveling exhibit on April fourteenth that features work from students directly affected by incarceration within their own communities.

Senior Brianna Wilson’s project is featured in the national exhibit. Wilson took the course as part of her Urban Studies major. Her project, Black Power Native Power, examined the histories of resistance in both black and native communities and explored the effects of white supremacy.

“I was very inspired by [civil rights activist] Stokely Carmichael,” Wilson says. “In a short line he says, ‘This country was founded on the genocide of the red man and the enslavement of the black man.’” Through that lens, Wilson looked deeper at the shared history of black and native communities, and also looked deeper into her personal history. "In my own family there is a joint black and native history, I wanted to explore and pay respect to that.”

At the end of fall semester, all of the students shared their work at a public presentation. While most students structured their research in the form of a website, Wilson took a more unique approach to her project. She brought in leaders and scholars from both the black and native communities to engage in a facilitated public discussion on the parallels of oppression between their communities. “I wanted to show black and native people that these are our parallels, these are our common enemies, and this is a space where we can come together in solidarity.”

In April, Wilson and other students from the University of Minnesota travelled to New York City to attend the national exhibit launch and to present their research. Here, a selected few projects from the participating schools across the country got to share in their research. The University of Minnesota was one of the few institutions where undergraduates participated, as opposed to graduate students.  

“I am grateful for this experience. Going to New York and sitting amongst dozens of scholars from across the country was invigorating. I came away more confident in my analytical and synthesizing skills and with a potential professional network.”

See more information about the States of Incarceration project.

This story was written by an undergraduate account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.