Distinguished Lecturers
Dan Berger

Dan Berger

Dan Berger is professor of comparative ethnic studies at the University of Washington Bothell and an adjunct affiliate professor of history at the University of Washington Seattle. He also serves as Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Scholarship in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at UWB. An expert on activism, Black Power, and the carceral state, his books include Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era (2014), which won the OAH James A. Rawley Prize and explores the central role that prisoners played in the civil rights and Black Power movements, and Remaking Radicalism: A Grassroots Documentary Reader of the United States, 1973-2001 (coedited with Emily Hobson). His most recent book is Stayed on Freedom: The Long History of Black Power Through One Family's Journey (2023), a biography of Black Power in the twentieth century as it was made at the grassroots, seen through the lives of two workaday organizers, Zoharah Simmons and Michael Simmons. The book is based on deep research and hundreds of hours of interviews. In addition to his books, Berger writes frequently for public audiences in Black Perspectives, Boston Review, the Seattle Times, and Truthout, among other publications. He coordinates the Washington Prison History Project, a multimedia digital archive of regional history.


OAH Lectures by Dan Berger

To understand Black Power, we have to look not to its iconic spokesmen or dramatic confrontations with authority but to the work of people whose stories have never been told. This lecture chronicles Black Power as an adaptive coalitional politics that took the urgency of the civil rights movement to a global stage--all in the hands of people whose deeds have so often escaped popular attention. This lecture traces the lines from the 20th century Black Power movement to the Black Lives Matter movement of today.

Prison is more than a place of punishment: it is also a site of knowledge production. From sentencing reports and parole files to lawsuits, the prison is constantly producing and ordering artifacts. It is, in other words, an archive. The archive is shaped both by the government, which oversees prisons, and by incarcerated people themselves, whose diverse forms of resistance generates a parallel counter-archive. This talk explores the archival dimensions of prison, with particular attention to the archives that incarcerated people generate. Using the digital archive Washington Prison History Project as a case study, this talk shows how prisoners have turned their conditions of confinement into a space to imagine freedom--a speculative archive.

This lecture examines the often unwitting but unfortunate role that prison reform has played in prison expansion. Thinking across the 20th century and into the present, this talk raises critical questions for the contemporary interest in ending mass incarceration.

Like slavery, prisons force a reckoning with the idea of freedom in American life. This lecture draws from historians of slavery and the carceral state to interrogate the meaning of freedom in a country that has the world's largest prison population. Reviewing the contradictory meanings of freedom, this lecture discusses freedom not as a creed but as a set of practices.

People in prison played a central role in the civil rights and Black Power movements of the mid-twentieth century and continue to influence racial justice campaigns today. They challenged the endemic racism of American prisons long before the War on Drugs gave the United States the world's largest prison population. This talk traces the long arc of black campaigns against prisons and police violence. It shows how activists confronted the barriers of imprisonment in fashioning their own tradition of social justice organizing.


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