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Untangling the Nineteenth-Century Roots of Mass Incarceration

Popular historical narratives often trace the origins of penal labor to the post-Civil War South. Yet as insightful and politically useful as this familiar story may be, it overlooks the vast system of forced penal servitude that took shape in the antebellum North. Untangling the nineteenth-century roots of mass incarceration and forced labor can help clarify the shifting dynamics of expropriation, exploitation, and racialization across the long history of the U.S. carceral state.