Leff Families Professor of History
Ph.D., University of Chicago
Field of Specialty
United States social, legal, and political history.
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, the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, and the literature of American history.
Willrich received his A.B. at Yale University and his MA and PhD at 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.
Currently, Willrich is working on a book-length project about anarchists' encounters with law and the state in early twentieth-century America. He has also begun research 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."
A 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, Willrich’s scholarship has been supported by fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and the Mandel Center for the Humanities. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, Washington City Paper, and Mother Jones.
Willrich, Michael. "Review." Rev. of Banking on the Body: The Market in Blood, Milk, and Sperm in Modern America, by Kara W. Swanson. Law and History Review vol. 34 February, 2016: 242-45.
Willrich, Michael. "Review." Rev. of American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, by Nancy K. Bristow. Journal of Social History vol. 48 Fall 2014: 231-233.
Willrich, Michael. "Review." Rev. of Knowledge in the Time of Cholera: The Struggle over American Medicine in the Nineteenth Century, by Owen Whooley. American Historical Review vol. 119 April 2014
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.
|HIST||130b||Crime and Punishment in U.S. 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||205b||Introduction to Doctoral Studies|