New research concerning unprecedented growth in the US penal system during the twentieth century creates rich opportunities for prison museums to engage broad audiences in a conversation about the problems of mass incarceration. The case of Eastern State Penitentiary, however, suggests that public historians' ability to call the law into question may be limited by the founding vision of their host intuitions. Specifically at issue are the priorities of historic preservationists whose architectural commitments risk obscuring important histories of race, power, and community. If they do, we stand to forget that many of the same social forces underlying the United States' carceral turn account too for the gentrification of its urban spaces during the late twentieth century. Eastern State's complicity in both may explain why it still struggles to fulfill its mission to “place current issues of corrections and justice in an historical framework.”

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