PhD Yale University
Crime and Punishment
Southern and Western History
Race and Class
Robert Perkinson received his B.A. in History from the University of Colorado at Boulder (1994) and his Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University (2001). His teaching and research interests include: U.S. social and political history, crime and punishment, race and politics, globalization and international affairs.
Perkinson has written in scholarly and popular forums on a range of topics, including: race relations in the age of Obama, supermax incarceration, terrorism and foreign policy, the World Bank in Asia, unexploded ordinance in Laos, and Anglo-American legal history. His work has been published in the New York Times, New Republic, Boston Review, The Progressive, and The Nation.
Perkinson’s first book, Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, January 2010) is a history of imprisonment, race, and politics from slavery to the present, with an emphasis on Texas, the most locked-down state in the nation. The book addresses some of the most vexing questions of our time: Why has the United States built the largest prison system in the world, unlike anything in the history of democratic governance, and why have racial disparities in criminal justice worsened over the past two generations, despite the landmark victories of the civil rights movement? Drawing on a decade of archival, legal, and legislative research, combined with scores of interviews, the book argues that the history of American criminal justice is a more southern story than most have acknowledged (the prison boom began and has remained most pervasive in the South) and that the politics of race and reaction have played a more prominent role in the expansion of incarceration than rising crime rates or other factors conventionally proposed by scholars. By tracing the story back to the nineteenth century, the book also draws troubling parallels between the development of Jim Crow, lynching, and convict leasing in the aftermath of Reconstruction and the rise of mass imprisonment in the wake of civil rights.
Texas Tough was reviewed in the New York Times, Boston Globe, New Republic, and Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications, and received extensive media attention. It won the PASS Award of the National Council of Crime and Delinquency, honorable mention for the OAH’s Frederick Jackson Turner Award, and received the PEN American Center’s John Kenneth Galbraith Award for best book of non-fiction published in 2009 and 2010.
Perkinson has received fellowships and awards from the Open Society Institute, American Historical Association, Southern Historical Association, and the American Council of Learned Societies. He has served on the boards of the University of Hawai‘i Professional Assembly and the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai‘i. As special assistant to the chancellor, he is leading the state of Hawai‘i’s effort to create an Obama presidential center in Honolulu. He lives in Mānoa and has two daughters.