American Times and Spaces: The Growth of Government, Exercise of Authority, and Institutionalization of Criminal and Racial Norms

AHA Session 275
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom H (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Hilary Coulson, Penn State University
Hilary Coulson, Penn State University
ToniAnn TreviƱo, University of Michigan
Geoffrey Scott West, University of California, San Diego

Session Abstract

The 19th century penitentiary system, the Post-Reconstruction Era Army, and the mid 20th century Federal Bureau of Narcotics helped consolidate governmental authority, set social norms, and criminalize racial differences in the U.S. South, on the Frontier, and in the Borderlands.  This roundtable will consist of three papers that examine the role of government institutions in contested spaces over the course of three centuries. 

In the first paper, “For the Prosperity and Welfare of Your State”: The Penitentiary at Richmond and the Rise of State Government in Virginia, 1796-1820,” Hilary Coulson argues the establishment of a penitentiary was crucial to the development of state government in Virginia. Through the construction of the state penitentiary house, lawmakers in the Early Republic nurtured the connection of rural regions in the state to a centralized authority in Richmond. In the second paper, “Spielen sie baseball oder tun sie singen?” (Do you play baseball or do you sing?) - Leisure time and cultural identity on US Army frontier forts in the late-nineteenth century,” Geoffrey West examines the development of American culture and social customs in the Post-Reconstruction Army’s frontier forts. West argues that during this time period, the federal government became more interested in the private lives of soldiers by approving or condemning leisure activities of those in service of the military. Finally, ToniAnn Treviño’s paper, “The Bureau of Narcotics on the Border: The Intersection of Narcotics Policing and Immigration in the 1950s,” examines the development of professionalization practices for local and state police officers on the Mexican-American border in the mid-20th Century. Treviño argues that narcotics control, policing, and public health racialized the Mexican community outside of explicit immigration enforcement and contributed to war on drugs during the Nixon administration. 

Our roundtable explores the impact of state and federal authority on what it means to be American—from umbrella lawmaking efforts, to the development of social customs, and finally to the establishment and control of the American border in the 20th century. Each time period, space, and institution asserted a form of control over the development of the United States and aided efforts of the government in creating institutions that molded societal practices, and controlled the American landscape. The Virginia Penitentiary, the U.S. Army, and the Bureau of Narcotics each offer snapshots of the influence these government sponsored institutions had on a particular space and time in U.S. History.  

This roundtable will appeal to scholars interested in the development of the state, the military, immigration, race, gender, criminalization, federal institutions, state institutions, drug enforcement, borderlands, leisure, prisons, the Early Republic, the Post-Reconstruction Era, and the Mid 20th Century.

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