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Michael Willrich

Author of Pox: An American History

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Short biography
Michael Willrich has been a member of the Brandeis faculty since 1999. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on American political and legal history (from the colonial period to the present), crime and punishment, social politics and the origins of the welfare state, the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, and the literature of American history.
Educated at Yale and the University of Chicago, his scholarship centers on the social, legal, and political history of the United States since the Civil War. He is especially interested in how ordinary Americans experienced, tangled with, and shaped the increasingly powerful interventionist state that emerged with the rise of a new urban-industrial society around the turn of the twentieth century.
Willrich's first book, CITY OF COURTS: SOCIALIZING JUSTICE IN PROGRESSIVE ERA CHICAGO, traced the rise of radical new ideas about the social causes of crime in modern industrial cities and the new institutions of law and liberal governance that those ideas helped bring into being.
His second book, POX: AN AMERICAN HISTORY tells the story of the great wave of smallpox epidemics that struck America and its overseas territories around the turn of the twentieth century, spurring the growth of modern public health authority, and engendering widespread social and legal opposition to the government policy of compulsory vaccination.
At present, Willrich is working on a book-length project on anarchists' encounters with law and the state in early twentieth-century America. He is also working on two other projects: a political history of sports in the United States, and a post-frontier history of Americans who have strived to live "off the grid."
Willrich’s scholarship has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Mandel Center for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, Washington City Paper, and Mother Jones.

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