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Nolan Bennett

Nolan Bennett

Assistant Professor
MAC A322
Nolan Bennett is a political theorist specializing in American political thought, literature, and criminal justice. He researches and writes on why so many people in the United States confront democratic dilemmas by offering their own life stories through autobiography, slave narrative, prison writing and more. In addition to teaching courses on constitutional law, law and society, and American politics and thought, Nolan is deeply devoted to prison education and reform. Before coming to the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, Nolan grew up in California, studied at Cornell, and taught at Duke and Georgetown universities.
Nolan’s book The Claims of Experience: Autobiography and American Democracy (2019) provides a new theory for what makes autobiography political throughout the history of the United States and today. Across five chapters, he examines the democratic challenges that encouraged a diverse cast of figures to bear their stories: Benjamin Franklin amid the revolutionary era, Frederick Douglass in the antebellum and abolitionist movements, Henry Adams in the Gilded Age and its anxieties of industrial change, Emma Goldman among the first Red Scare and state opposition to radical speech, and Whittaker Chambers amid the second Red Scare that initiated the anticommunist turn of modern conservatism. These people made what Nolan calls a “claim of experience.” By proclaiming their life stories, these authors took back authority over their experiences from prevailing political powers and called to new community among their audiences.
Nolan has also published articles on racial activism in Frederick Douglass’s The Heroic Slave, the feminist anarchism of Emma Goldman, and Douglass’s personal narratives. He is currently working on the rise of life sentences in America and the political legacy of George Jackson, in preparation for a second book on prison writing as political thought.
For more information, please visit Nolan’s website.