The Wire goes to college

It’s been years since the last episode of The Wire, a crime drama set in Baltimore, Maryland, aired on HBO, but its dedicated fan base, including many social scientists, still continues to grow. Every term, another course in sociology, public health, or media studies is formed around the show, and students form long lines to enroll. Contexts reached out to several illustrious professors (and one eager student) to learn more about the social importance and pedagogical value of this groundbreaking series which examined Baltimore’s drug trade, seaports, government, schools, and media in five critically-acclaimed seasons.

Our Informants

Todd M. Sodano is a professor of communication and journalism at St. John Fisher College. He taught “Inside HBO’s America: A Case Study of The Wire” at Syracuse University, and his research has examined The Wire and the influences of TV critics.

William Julius Wilson is in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he taught “Urban Inequality and The Wire.” His book When Work Disappears has been cited as an inspiration for the show’s second season, and he has a forthcoming article (with Anmol Chadda) in Critical Inquiry tentatively titled “Sociology Looks at The Wire.”

Peter Beilenson is a health officer with Howard County, MD and is in the pub- lic health studies department at Johns Hopkins University, where he taught “Baltimore and The Wire: A Focus on Major Urban Issues.” As Baltimore’s former Health Commissioner, Beilenson is portrayed on The Wire, and he’s now developing a textbook for teaching with the show.

Marc Levine is in the department of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he taught “The Crisis of the American City—Viewed through HBO’s The Wire.” His work focuses on economic change, urban development, and cultural diversity in the North American city.

Eva Smith is a student at Johns Hopkins University. She took Beilenson’s course on The Wire and is now its TA.