Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Geography and Anthropology
Geographical anomalies in American capital punishment are a key to interpreting this social practice. A nationwide change occurred after the 1830s from public execution to sequestered penitentiary execution. A regional contrast began developing during the same period that has lasted until now, with some states holding 20 or more executions annually, while others abolished the death penalty 75-125 years ago. The United States furnishes historical geographical conditions for persistence of capital punishment whose aftereffects are unlikely to be overcome. Popular support for the death penalty is efficacious in a democratized, decentralized decision-making process. Popular support has been particularly strong when communities had to be formed among heterogeneous, often socially unmotivated individuals, as on the frontier. Discriminatory popular support, which continues, has been stimulated by historical resentment arising in part from the exploitative competition between White labor and Black or immigrant labor. The study contrasts the success of abolition in parts of New England and the upper Midwest after 1846 with later failures elsewhere, and concludes that success came in part from a true "culture of liberalism.". The study develops an account of space as a socially created and manipulated element in these issues. The theoretical strategy is an integration of phenomenological theories of place and region with classical sociological theory of Durkheim and of the "conflict tradition." The role of spatial elements, place and region, has been an ideological one. Public space, with its slowly changing landscape elements and its larger-than-human scale, forwards the suggestion of authority, continuity, and normalcy. Regionally, characterizations are created: the South is the locus of racial discrimination; the West is "lawless." However, when the social, economic, and political relationships making up a given social order change, the use and labeling of space, or the choice of locale, changes with them. Public space, when its inherently legitimating connotation cannot support the morally controversial functions, is simply discarded as a locus. Region and place as "social players" do not announce such changes and statistical realities, and they can act to retard the recognition of them.
Husband, Eliza, "A Geographical Perspective on United States Capital Punishment, 1801-1960." (1990). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 5059.