HSTAA 590 /PBAF 599
Winter 2008

Prof. Margaret O'Mara

The State and Social Policy [American History: Writings and Interpretations Since 1870]

Class description
This readings and discussion course focuses on the emergence of the broadly defined American welfare state, including health care, social insurance, employment, and anti-poverty programs , from the Progressive Era to the present.  Our readings and discussions will trace this history from the reform movements of late-19th-century cities, through the establishment of early state-level programs for women and children, to the New Deal, the Great Society, and “the end of welfare as we know it.”  We will consider how and why social welfare provision in the US is different from international counterparts, and more broadly consider the historiography of welfare states here and abroad. Successful participation in the course will provide a review of the historiography of US social policy, an introduction to emerging currents in the scholarly literature, and critical analysis and understanding of historical antecedents to  present-day debates around health care, Social Security, welfare, and urban economic development.  Students will also have an enhanced understanding of how to teach this material to undergraduate students.

Open only to graduate students. 

The assignments in this course are intended to support your professional educuation as a teacher and scholar, and are designed so that they may be repurposed at a later date in your training or your academic/professional career. Naturally, participation, completion of readings, and collegial and productive participation in discussion are weighed heavily. The other assignments are:

1. Each class session, one student will give a ten-minute historiographic presentation that outlines major debates within one strand of the literature, and provides a brief assessment of how you think this author has contributed to, and/or changed the terms of, the scholarly debate. In conjunction with this presentation, the student will draw up a short (one page, single-spaced) bibliography of selected works in the subfield, copies of which will be distributed to others in the class.
2. In order to begin to think about how you might teach this literature to future students, you will write a hypothetical course syllabus for a 300-level undergraduate seminar. The syllabus should be as substantively detailed and structurally precise as possible, built as if it were to be taught at the UW next year. The syllabus should be accompanied by an up to 500-word (one page, single-spaced) narrative describing your choices of readings and assignments.
3. Welfare, health care, and social insurance programs are among the most hotly debated issues in present-day politics. You will be asked to write an op-ed piece suitable for publication in a regional or national US paper that places one element of this debate in historical perspective, using ideas and findings of the scholarly literature to make your case.
4. The final assignment is a 2500-word (ten pages, double-spaced) review essay of the welfare state literature. Although shorter than a review article found in a refereed journal such as Reviews in American History, the essay should be similar in spirit and tone of analysis. You may presume the reader’s familiarity with the substance of the works under discussion. Focus on how each of the works speaks to your chosen theme; contrast/compare sources and methods; discuss effectiveness of argument; assess contribution to the literature.

Grading breakdown is as follows: participation/readings 40%; bibliographic presentation 10%; op-ed assignment 15%; syllabus-writing assignment 15%; final review essay 20%.