Distinguished Lecturers
Elizabeth Hinton

Elizabeth Hinton

Elizabeth Hinton is Professor of History, African American Studies, and Law at Yale University. Her research focuses on the persistence of poverty, racial inequality, and urban violence in the 20th century United States. Hinton’s first book, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (2016), examines the implementation of federal law enforcement programs beginning in the mid-1960s that transformed domestic social policies, expanded policing in low-income communities, and facilitated the dramatic expansion of the U.S. prison system. From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime received numerous awards and recognition, including the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Her recent book, America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s (2021), won a Robert F. Kennedy book award. America on Fire provides a new framework for understanding the problem of police abuse and the broader, systemic repression of Black people and other people of color in post-civil rights America. From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime and America on Fire were both named New York Times Notable books. Professor Hinton’s articles and op-eds can be found in the pages of Science, Nature, The American Historical Review, The Journal of American History, The Journal of Urban History, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, The Boston Review, The Nation, and Time. With the late historian Manning Marable, she coedited The New Black History: Revisiting the Second Reconstruction (2011). Hinton served as a member of the National Academies of Sciences Committee on Reducing Racial Inequalities in the Criminal Justice System and was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2022. She continues to serve as founding co-director of the Institute on Policing, Incarceration, and Public Safety at Harvard University's Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.

OAH Lectures by Elizabeth Hinton

This presentation traces history of policing in America from the colonial period to the present. By emphasizing the origins and consequences of racial codes, targeted policing, and criminal justice discrimination throughout American history, this lecture presents the antiblack punitive tradition as a defining historical phenomenon.

Hinton's lecture draws attention to the historical developments that ultimately gave rise to mass incarceration in the late twentieth century U.S. It discusses the major punitive changes that often emerged following the expansion of constitutional and civil rights for Black Americans and raises questions about the limits of democracy. This history provides necessary background to address the ongoing consequences of racial inequities in the criminal legal system and the extraordinary public policy implications of this dynamic.

The decades since the civil rights movement are considered by many to be a story of progress toward equal rights and greater inclusiveness. Hinton uncovers an altogether different history, taking us on a troubling journey from Detroit in 1967 and Miami in 1980 to Los Angeles in 1992 and beyond to chart the persistence of structural racism and one its primary consequences, the so-called urban riot.  Hinton offers a critical corrective: the word riot was nothing less than a racist trope applied to events that can only be properly understood as rebellions--explosions of collective resistance to an unequal and violent order. Challenging the optimistic story of the post-Jim Crow United States, Hinton's discussion will present a new framework for understanding our nation's enduring racial strife. As her history suggests, rebellions will likely continue until police are no longer called on to manage the consequences of dismal conditions beyond their control, and until an oppressive system is finally remade on the principle of justice and equality.


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