Heather Ann Thompson: From Attica to MOVE: Why the 1970s and 1980s Matters to Criminal Justice Policy Making Today


Monday, February 5, 2018, 12:15pm to 1:30pm


Land Hall (Belfer 400)

Heather Ann Thompson, Professor of History, University of Michigan.

Heather Ann ThompsonFrom the story of how the Pentagon Papers came to be published, to that of the Watergate break-in or the explosion at Three Mile Island, the history of the 1970s and 1980s is quite dramatic and thus intriguing to many of us. But beyond seeing the past as fodder for a good book or blockbuster movie, it isn’t always obvious to public policy scholars and practitioners why, beyond some color and context, history might be as important to the work they do as is the generation and analysis of new data.

In this seminar, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Dr. Heather Ann Thompson (University of Michigan) discusses how a deep knowledge of the past is in fact essential to understanding myriad problems of inequality and injustice that policy makers seek to solve today.

About the speaker

Blood in the Water, by Heather Ann ThompsonDr. Heather Ann Thompson is a historian at the University of Michigan, and is the Pulitzer Prize and Bancroft Prize-winning author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (Pantheon Books, 2016). 

Blood in the Water has won the Ridenhour Prize, the J. Willard Hurst Prize, the Public Information Award from the New York Bar Association, the Law and Literature Prize from the New York County Bar Association, the Media for a Just Society Award from the National Council for Crime and Delinquency, and the book also received a rarely-given Honorable Mention for the Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association. Blood in the Water was also long listed for the Cundill Prize in History, and was a finalist for the National Book Award as well as the Los Angeles Times Book Award.

Upon its release Blood in the Water was prominently reviewed and profiled in the New York Times in four different sections, and Thompson herself was profiled in the highly-coveted “Talk” section in the New York Times MagazineBlood in the Water ultimately landed on fourteen “Best of 2016” lists including the New York Times Most Notable Books of 2016 listand ones published by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Newsweek, Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe, and others. 

Within the first week of its publication Blood in the Water was optioned by TriStar Pictures and will be adapted for film by acclaimed screenwriters Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel, produced by award-winning producers Amy Pascal and Rachel O’Connor, and directed by Christopher McQuarrie noted for his work on The Usual Suspects and the most recent Mission Impossible movies.

Heather Ann Thompson also wrote the book Whose Detroit: Politics, Labor, and Race in a Modern American City in 2001 which was republished in 2017 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Detroit Riot of 1967. Her commentary on that subject landed her on numerous local broadcasts, on a national news program, on CSPAN, and on two CNN documentaries.

Thompson is also a public intellectual who writes extensively on the history of policing, mass incarceration and the current criminal justice system for The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, The Washington Post, Jacobin, The Atlantic, Salon, Dissent, NBC, New Labor Forum, The Daily Beast, and The Huffington Post, as well as for the top publications in her field.

Her award-winning scholarly articles include: “Why Mass Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline and Transformation in the Postwar United States,” Journal of American History (December 2010) and “Rethinking Working Class Struggle through the Lens of the Carceral State: Toward a Labor History of Inmates and Guards.” Labor: Studies in the Working Class History of the Americas (Fall, 2011). Thompson’s piece in the Atlantic Monthly on how mass incarceration has distorted democracy in America was named a finalist for a best magazine article award in 2014.

On the policy front Thompson served on a National Academy of Sciences blue-ribbon panel that studied the causes and consequences of mass incarceration in the U.S. The two-year, $1.5 million project was sponsored by the National Institute of Justice and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Thompson has served as well on the boards of several policy organizations including the Prison Policy Initiative, the Eastern State Penitentiary, a historic site, and on the advisory boards of Life of the Law and the Alliance of Families for Justice.  She has also worked in an advisory capacity with the Center for Community Change, the Humanities Action Lab Global Dialogues on Incarceration, and the Open Society Foundation on issues related to work.

Learn more about Heather Ann Thompson's work


See also: Spring 2018