Nofil, Brianna

Field: United States; Advisor: Ngai; Year: 2013

Brianna Nofil is a doctoral candidate in U.S. History, who specializes in the history of immigration and the criminal justice system. Her dissertation, “Detention Power: Jails, Camps, and the Construction of Immigrant Incarceration,” examines the use of carceral sites in the enforcement of immigration law, from borderland jails used to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 1900s to extraterritorial detention sites created to control Caribbean migration in the 1990s. This project explores how evolving ideas about punishment, discretionary power, and due process shaped the state’s power to detain immigrants across the 20th century.

Brianna received B.A.’s in History and Public Policy Studies from Duke University. This year, her research is being supported by fellowships from the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, the Goizueta Foundation at the University of Miami Cuban Heritage Collection, and the University of Chicago. She is from South Florida.


Brianna frequently writes about the history of immigration, incarceration, and other American phenomena for popular audiences. Recent work includes:

Family Separation Is Officially Over, but History Suggests the U.S. Won't Find a Good Solution for Migrant Children - TIME

Notes on Detention Camp - Topic

The Forgotten Tale of How America Converted Its 1980 Olympic Village Into a Prison - Atlas Obscura

Ellis Island’s Forgotten Final Act as a Cold War Detention Center - Atlas Obscura



Brianna received B.A.’s in History and Public Policy Studies from Duke University.



Before coming to Columbia, Brianna held the Bear Fellowship in Business, Law, and Human Rights at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, where she researched transnational corporations and human rights grievance mechanisms. She has also worked at the Columbia Center for Student Advising on programming to support first-generation undergraduates at Columbia.

Since 2015, Brianna and Jake Purcell have been developing a pop history project documenting the stories of medieval buildings transplanted to the United States by a variety of eccentric American millionaires. Find out more here.