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Lecture by Jackson Smith (University of Oregon)  

During the 1980s Philadelphia police officers dubbed the Black and Latinx neighborhoods of North Philadelphia where the illicit narcotics trade concentrated “The Badlands.” This geologic term naturalized the decline of these neighborhoods, obscuring the political-economic forces that gave rise to the drug economy. In this talk I interrogate the making of the Badlands, both through decades of racialized disinvestment in these neighborhoods and through a popular discourse that sought to make sense of the consequences. I show how the Badlands discourse shaped municipal approaches to the problem of disinvestment, legitimizing police interventions that increasingly focused on the specter of the “crack house” and culminated with the demolition of entire blocks of rowhouses during the early 1990s.

The Department of History’s Seminar Series runs throughout the academic year and features guest speakers from the nation’s top universities who share their perspectives on history. Visit for more information about this event and others in the series. 

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