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HIST 40630 - Crime, Heredity and Insanity in American History, Fall 2007

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Author: Linda Przybyszewski
Notre Dame OpenCourseware (OCW) offers free educational resources for the course "Crime, Heredity and Insanity in American History" in the History Department. This course will give students an opportunity to learn more about the ways in which Americans have thought about crime and insanity and how their ideas have changed over time.
phrenology heads

Crime, Heredity and Insanity in American History

Professor Linda Przybyszewski, Ph.D.

History Department
University of Notre Dame

Course Structure: ninety minute classes -two times a week

"Phrenology Heads." Image courtesy of Gaetan Lee by Creative Commons License

Course Description

This course will give students an opportunity to learn more about the ways in which Americans have thought about crime and insanity and how their ideas have changed over time. The 19th century witnessed a transformation in the understanding of the origins of criminal behavior in the United States. For many, a religious emphasis on humankind as sinful gave way to a belief in its inherent goodness. But if humans were naturally good, how could their evil actions be explained? Drawing on studies done here and abroad, American doctors, preachers, and lawyers debated whether environment, heredity, or free will determined the actions of the criminal. By the early 20th century, lawyers and doctors had largely succeeded in medicalizing criminality. Psychiatrists 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?

This course was also cross-listed as AMST 40327, GSC 30504, HESB 30474, and STV 40130.

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