Crime, Heredity, Insanity in US

Primary Number: HIST 30634

ConStudies Number: CNST 30428

ConStudies CRN: 15544

Primary CRN: 15464

Instructor: Przybyszewski, Linda

Day/Time: TTh9:30am-10:45am

Attributes: HBNA-History of North America HCT5 - HIST Cat 5: US HIST - old Core History PSIM - Poverty Studies Elect. WKHI - new Core History

Location: Debartolo Hall 205

This course gives students the opportunity to learn more about how Americans have thought about criminal responsibility and how their ideas have changed over time. Historians contend that the 19th century witnessed a transformation in the understanding of the origins of criminal behavior in the United States. The earlier religious emphasis on the sinfulness of all mankind, which made the murderer into merely another sinner, gave way to a belief in the inherent goodness of humankind. But if humans were naturally good, how are we to explain their evil actions? And crime rates varied widely by sex and race; European women were said to have been domesticated out of crime doing. What do those variations tell us about a common human nature? The criminal might be a flawed specimen of humankind born lacking a healthy and sane mind. Relying in part upon studies done in Europe, American doctors, preachers, and lawyers debated whether insanity explained criminality over the century and how it expressed itself in different races and sexes. Alternative theories were offered. Environment, heredity, and free will were all said to have determined the actions of the criminal. By the early 20th century, lawyers and doctors had largely succeeded in medicalizing criminality. Psychiatrists now treated criminals as patients; judges invoked hereditary eugenics in sentencing criminals. Science, not sin, had apparently become the preferred mode of explanation for the origins of crime. But was this a better explanation than what had come before? Can it explain the turbulent debates in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries over variations in crime rates by race? Can it explain why men, not women, are still more likely to commit murder?