Leff Families Professor of History
Ph.D., University of Chicago
Field of Specialty
United States social and political history, with special interests in legal history, urban history, the politics of criminal justice and public health, and the Progressive Era (1890-1920).
Olin-Sang American Civilization Center 217
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.
Willrich's research explores the many ways that ordinary Americans experienced, conceptualized, and shaped the increasingly powerful state that emerged with the rise of a new urban-industrial society during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
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 two 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 writings have appeared in The Journal of American History, Law and History Review, the Journal of Policy History, The Journal of Urban History, The New York Times, The Washington Monthly, The New Republic, Mother Jones, and The Washington City Paper.
Willrich, Michael. ""Homicide in Chicago 1870-1930" (Website Review)." Journal of American History vol. 99 March 2013: 1333-1334.
Willrich, Michael. "“A Scar Nobly Got”." The Scientist July 2011.
Willrich, Michael. "Why Parents Fear the Needle." New York Times January 21, 2011: Op-Ed A 27.
Willrich, Michael. POX: AN AMERICAN HISTORY. New York: Penguin Press, 2011.
Willrich, Michael. "'The Least Vaccinated of Any Civilized Country': Personal Liberty and Public Health in the Progressive Era." Journal of Policy History 20. 1 (WINTER 2008) (2008).
Willrich, Michael. "Chapter 6: Criminal Justice in the United States." The Cambridge History of American Law. vol. 3 Ed. Christopher L. Tomlins and Michael Grossberg. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 195-231.
Willrich, Michael. "Urbanism is History: A Review Essay." Connecticut History 44. Spring 2005 (2005): 154-157.
Willrich, Michael. "'Close That Place of Hell': Poor Women and the Cultural Politics of Prohibition." Journal of Urban History 29. (2003).
Willrich, Michael. "Boyz to Men . . . And Back Again?: Revisiting a Forgotten Experiment in Juvenile Justice." Judicature 86. (2003): 258-262.
Willrich, Michael. "Dickering for Justice: Power, Interests, and the Plea Bargaining Juggernaut." Reviews in American History 31. (2003).
Willrich, Michael. "The Case for Courts: Law and Political Development in the Progressive Era." The Democratic Experiment: New Directions in American Political History., 2003
Willrich, Michael. City of Courts: Socializing Justice in Progressive Era Chicago. Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Willrich, Michael. "Home Slackers: Men, the State, and Welfare in Modern America." Journal of American History 87. (2000): 460-489.
Willrich, Michael. "The Two Percent Solution: Eugenic Jurisprudence and the Socialization of American Law, 1900-1930." Law and History Review 16. (1998): 63-111.
|FYS||32b||Crime and Punishment in History|
|HIST||160a||American Legal History I|
|HIST||160b||American Legal History II|
|HIST||161b||American Political History|
|HIST||168b||America in the Progressive Era: 1890-1920|
|HIST||200b||Colloquium in American History|
|HIST||201a||Major Problems in American Legal History|
|HIST||205a||Social Politics in the Progressive Era|
|HIST||205b||Introduction to Doctoral Studies|