OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Dan Berger

Portrait of Dan Berger
Image Credit: Kyle Cassidy

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). In 2023, he will publish Stayed on Freedom: The Long History of Black Power Through One Family's Journey with Basic Books. Stayed on Freedom is 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.


NEW IN 2023: https://www.basicbooks.com/titles/dan-berger/stayed-on-freedom/9781541675377/


Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

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 artifacts. It is, in other words, an archive. The archive is shaped both by the government, which oversees prisons, and by incarcerated people themselves. This talk explores how prisons constitute an archive. Focusing especially on the creative projects of currently and formerly incarcerated people have created, Berger shows how prisoners have turned their conditions of confinement into a space to imagine freedom--a speculative archive. This talk draws from an emerging digital project of prisoner activism in the 1970s and 1980s.
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.
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.