The desire to punish seems to be a universal human trait with deep psychological, moral, and practical foundations. At the same time, practices and meanings associated with punishments vary enormously across time and place. Whatever is true of punitive practices in social institutions (such as families, schools, monasteries, and militaries), punishment as a legal institution is a part of state power; and, like other aspects of the legal order, it addresses multiple concerns and audiences. In particular, "mass incarceration" — the profound enlargement of U.S. prison systems since the 1970s, and its concentration on economically marginal racial and ethnic minorities — requires attention to politics, social structures, and cultural meanings. This course explores the roots of penal change in advanced economic countries since the 18th century, with attention to California's penal crisis in the early 21st century and comparisons with trends in the rest of North America, Europe, Asia, and South America.