Melanie Newport

The 2023 Sharon Harris Book Award

UCHI is honored to announce the winners of the Sharon Harris Book Award for 2023:

Melanie Newport headshot

Melanie D. Newport

Assistant Professor, History, UConn

for her book

This is My Jail: Local Politics and the Rise of Mass Incarceration (Penn Press, 2022)

The Sharon Harris Book Award Committee notesBook cover for This is My Jail by Melanie Newport, “An incisive and timely political history, Melanie Newport’s This is My Jail: Local Politics and the Rise of Mass Incarceration (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2023) features previously under-engaged stories of resistance by jailed people and their allies to challenge conventional accounts of the inevitable or recent emergence of mass incarceration in the U.S. Long predating the rise of conservatism and neo-conservatism, Newport persuasively shows how, in experimental and contingent ways, local governments relied on jails to manage the freedom of people of color from the founding of the nation and its cities. An indispensable player in ongoing negotiations over what local government could and should do, the functions of jails evolved with their role as urban regulatory institutions. As Black and Latinx urban residents resisted them as criminalizing the poor and perpetrating purposeful racialization, the response, through the twentieth century, was jail expansion. Drawing from these lessons, Newport states unequivocally that jails are barriers to collective freedom that cannot deliver a solution to violence in Chicago or beyond. We are delighted that this important, must-read study was authored by a UConn colleague!”

Dimitris Xygalatas headshot

Dimitris Xygalatas

Associate Professor, Anthropology, UConn

for his book

Ritual: How Seemingly Pointless Acts Make Life Worth Living (Little, Brown Spark, 2022)

The Sharon Harris Book Award Committee notesBook cover: Ritual by Dimitris Xygalatas, “Dimitris Xygalatas’ Ritual: How Seemingly Pointless Acts Make Life Worth Living, is an exceptional combination of meticulous research and vivid prose, a first-rate scholarly book which has garnered attention well beyond the academy. Xygalatas combines scientific methodology with a deeply humanistic perspective to argue that rituals which seem initially without purpose constitute deep wells of comfort, connection, and meaning in societies across the world. Ritual, a book which enlightens and entertains, is the focus of multiple special issues in academic journals and has been covered by NPR, the BBC, Nature, and others.”

Honorable mentions:

Martha Cutter headshot

Martha Cutter

Professor, English, American Studies, & Africana Studies, UConn

for her book

The Many Resurrections of Henry Box Brown (Penn Press, 2022)

Book cover for The Many Resurrections of Henry Box Brown by Martha CutterThe Sharon Harris Award Committee notes, “This book both excavates the radical effects of the performances of Henry Box Brown, both in the nineteenth-century world in which he lived, and in the imaginations and artistry of Black innovators in the twenty-first century. Henry Box Brown self-emancipated in 1849 by having himself mailed in a large postal crate to free soil in Philadelphia. He then created a career in which he built on his own remarkable story as an abolitionist lecturer, magician, actor, singer, and hypnotist. Cutter scrutinized a far-flung archive that included materials in England, the US, and Canada to reveal aspects of Brown’s life and work that had been previously unknown. This book manages the difficult feat of both creating an impeccably-researched engagement with this remarkable man and tracing his legacies in compelling close readings of current literature and artistry. This truly interdisciplinary work offers an important new perspective in how we engage the work of nineteenth-century African American artistry, but how that artistry continues to influence our present moment.”

Nu-Anh Tran headshot

Nu-Anh Tran

Assistant Professor, History & Asian and Asian American Studies, UConn

for her book

Disunion: Anticommunist Nationalism and the Making of the Republic of Vietnam (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2022)

Book cover of Nu-Anh Tran's Disunion: Anticommunist Nationalism and the Making of the Republic of VietnamThe Sharon Harris Award Committee notes, “Nu-Anh Tran’s book Disunion: Anticommunist Nationalism and the Making of the Republic of Vietnam, offers a fresh perspective on the Vietnam War and its legacies by engaging and analyzing a largely neglected archive of Vietnamese-language sources. In doing so, Tran makes a persuasive case that overturns the conventional wisdom that the U.S’s hand was forced in propping up up the dictatorial Ngô Đình Diệmin as the only feasible option in the fight against communism. Tran’s research reveals that the U.S. could have chosen any number of Vietnamese allies as it sought to stop the expansion of communism. Rather, the US chose to invest in the most authoritarian option because of colonialist skepticism around the Vietnamese capacity for democracy. This remarkable book adds complexity and nuance to the ever-present American justification of violent intervention as a means of ‘spreading democracy.’”

We thank the award committee for their service. The Sharon Harris Book Award recognizes scholarly depth and intellectual acuity and highlights the importance of humanities scholarship. The 2023 award was open to UConn tenured, tenure-track, emeritus, or in-residence faculty who published a monograph between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2022.

Fellow’s Talk: Melanie Newport on Prisoner Lives

2020–21 UCHI Fellow's Talk. Forgotten Men: Media and Prisoner Lives in Cook County Jails, 1954–1958. Assistant Professor of History Melanie Newport, with a response by Nicole Breault. Live. Online. Registration required. March 3, 2021, 4:00pm.

Forgotten Men: Media and Prisoner Lives in Cook County Jail, 1954–1958

Melanie Newport (Assistant Professor of History, UConn)

with a response by Nicole Breault

Wednesday, March 3, 2021, 4:00pm (Online—Register here)

Early in the COVID crisis, Cook County Jail in Chicago gained renown as one of the nation’s top sites of infection. Amid protests over the jail’s failure to protect the health and safety of prisoners, an incarcerated person put a note in the jail window: HELP. WE MATTER 2. A picture of the note became a symbol of prisoner humanity that was shared around the world.

This presentation places this act of resistance within a deeper history of prisoner life and struggle in one of the nation’s largest jails. Looking to a unique moment in the 1950s, this paper considers how prisoners—self-identified as “forgotten men”— used media, including a jail newspaper and a tv show, to assert their humanity and their visions for jail reform. As part of a larger study that considers how jail reform shaped the rise of mass incarceration, these sources show that incarcerated people participated in lively debates over the meanings and outcomes of jailing. Jailed people used media to assert their worthiness of participation in the postwar liberal project as they struggled to mitigate the harms of the nascent carceral state.

Melanie D. Newport is an assistant professor of history at UConn’s Hartford campus and affiliated faculty in American Studies and Urban and Community Studies. She holds a BA from Pacific Lutheran University, an MA from the University of Utah, and PhD from Temple University. Her current book project, under contract with University of Pennsylvania Press’ Politics and Culture in Modern America series, explores the political history of jail reform in Chicago from the 1830s to the present. Prior to joining the UConn Faculty in 2016, she taught at Temple University, Community College of Philadelphia, and Garden State Youth Correctional Facility. Newport’s work has been supported by the Center for the Humanities at Temple, the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, and the University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Chicago libraries.

Nicole Breault is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the Department of History. Her research interests are in early American legal and social history with an emphasis on urban governance, institutions, gender, and space. She earned a B.A. from the University of Vermont and an M.A. from the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her research has been awarded fellowships at the Massachusetts Historical Society, New England Regional Fellowship Consortium, the Boston Athenæum, and the Huntington Library, as well as a Littleton-Griswold Grant by the American Historical Association. Currently, Nicole is the Draper Dissertation Fellow at the UConn Humanities Institute working on her dissertation “The Night Watch of Boston: Law and Governance in Eighteenth-Century British America.”

Registration is required for the event.

If you require accommodation to attend this event, please contact us at or by phone (860) 486-9057.

Watch now:

You Should…Pre-Election Edition. Part V

In advance of the upcoming election, we’ve asked members of the UCHI community to suggest a book, article, poem, painting, video, or piece of music that they think everyone should take a look at in this current moment.

Melanie Newport says you should read…

Dan Royles, To Make the Wounded Whole: The African American Struggle Against HIV / AIDS (UNC Press, 2020). This humane and timely book recounts how people fought against racism and for safety, healing, and political power during a global epidemic.

Book cover of Dan Royles' To Make the Wounded Whole

Shaine Scarminach says you should watch…

Peter Watkins’s film La Commune (2000), to see how ordinary people can seize the reins of history and build a better world.

Promotional image for the film La Commune. A woman, her back to the viewer, reads a broadside.
Promotional image from the film

Sarah Willen says you should consider journaling…

with the Pandemic Journaling Project. This combined journaling platform and research study, hosted right here at UConn, has become an online space for chronicling the turbulent world swirling around us—and for glimpsing others’ experiences of these wild times. In about 15 minutes a week, you can create your own downloadable journal in writing, audio, or images. To see public posts contributed by folx around the United States and the world (over 550 journalers in 24 countries so far), check out PJP’s Featured Entries page.

How will you tell your COVID-19 story to your children & grandchildren? The Pandemic Journaling Project.


Melanie Newport is assistant professor of history at the University of Connecticut and a 2020–21 UCHI Faculty Fellow. She is affiliated faculty in the American Studies, Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, and Urban and Community Studies programs. She teaches urban history and criminal justice history at UConn’s Hartford campus. She holds a BA from Pacific Lutheran University, an MA from the University of Utah, and PhD from Temple University. She is a contributor to Oral History, Community, and Work in the American West and a forthcoming volume, New Histories of Black Chicago. Newport’s work has been supported by the Center for the Humanities at Temple, the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, and the University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Chicago libraries.

Shaine Scarminach is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History and a 2020–21 UCHI Dissertation Research Scholar. He received a BA in history from the University of San Francisco and an MA in history from California State University, Los Angeles. He studies the history of the U.S. in the World, with an emphasis on the historical relationship between U.S. empire, world capitalism, and the global environment. His research has been supported by the Tinker Foundation, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, and the Rockefeller Archive Center.

Sarah S. Willen, PhD, MPH is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut and Director of the Research Program on Global Health and Human Rights at the university’s Human Rights Institute. A former NIMH Postdoctoral Fellow in Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, she holds a PhD in Anthropology and an MPH in Global Health, both from Emory University. She is one of the co-founders of the Pandemic Journaling Project.

Announcing the 2020–21 UConn Faculty Fellows

The University of Connecticut Humanities Institute (UCHI) is proud to announce its incoming class of UConn faculty fellows. The Class of 2020–21 will consist of seven faculty who embody the creative drive and energy of the arts and humanities scholarship at the University of Connecticut. More information about each fellow, including their biographical information, will be provided at a later date:



Elizabeth Athens sitting against a background of flowers

Elizabeth Athens


Department of Art & Art History

Project Title: Figuring a World: William Bartram’s Natural History

Amanda Crawford headshot

Amanda Crawford


Department of Journalism

Project Title: The Sky is Crying: the Sandy Hook Shooting and the Battle for Truth

Melanie Newport headshot

Melanie Newport


Department of History

Project Title: This is My Jail:  Reform and Mass Incarceration in Chicago and Cook County

Helen Rozwadowski headshot

Helen Rozwadowski


Department of History - Avery Point

Project Title: Science as Frontier: History Hidden in Plain Sight

Sara Silverstein headshot

Sara Silverstein


Department of History & Human Rights Institute

Project Title: Toward Global Health: A History of International Collaboration

Scott Wallace headshot

Scott Wallace


Department of Journalism

Project Title: The Bleeding Frontier: Indigenous Warriors in the Battle for the Amazon and Planet Earth

Sarah Winter headshot

Sarah Winter


Department of English

Project Title: The Right to a Remedy: Habeas Corpus, Empire, and Human Rights Narratives