Syllabus for 79-202 History and Policy
Fall 1998

Professor Dan Resnick


This course is a practical introduction to historical work on policy issues at the national, state and local level. Assignments will offer practice in refining research questions, identifying sources on the Web and in libraries, gathering information, analyzing data, and reporting results in memos, graphics and extended pieces of writing. Our issue focus this fall will be budgets, social policy, and values, examined historically and cross-nationally. A portfolio of the semester's assignments, with an integrative overview, will serve as the exit requirement for the course.

Books for purchase (in order of assignment)

Kevin Phillips, Arrogant Capital: The Acclaimed Indictment of Washington Gridlock. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1995.

A Citizen's Guide to the Federal Budget, FY 1999. Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Govt. Printing Office, Washington, DC .

Course packet. Assignments on the Federal Budget; Blank et al., "A Primer on Welfare Reform" and Weaver, Shakri and Jacobs, "Public Opinion on Welfare Reform", from Weaver and Dickens, eds., Looking Before We Leap: Social Science and Welfare Reform. D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1995.

Joseph Townsend, A Dissertation On The Poor Laws. Westwood, Mass.: The PaperBook Press, 1991.

Michael Harrington, The Other America: Poverty in the United States. Old Tappan, NJ: Macmillan. (1962) 1994.

Michael B. Katz, ed., The Underclass Debate: Views from History. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.

Harrell R. Rodgers, Jr. Poor Women, Poor Children: American Poverty in the 1990's. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1996.

Video reserve (in order of assignment)

America's War on Poverty.
Call # 362.5 A 512.
Five volumes (tapes) of 60 minutes each.
Only two are assigned - Vol. I and Vol. V.

"Frontline: The Confessions of Rosa Lee".
Call # 362.5 C7483.
30 minutes.

Gertrude Himmelfarb, "Culture And Morality In America".
Call # 303.4 C968.
About an hour in length.
Washington, DC. Made available through C-Span.

Course meetings & office hours

Classes for Dan Resnick and Caroline Acker meet Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:00-10:20. Resnick's classes are in BH231; Acker's meet in PH126A.

Office hours for Resnick are Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:30-11:30; for Acker, they are . xxxxxxxxx.

Please send e-mail beforehand, so that we can confirm.


Dates for all written assignments short policy memos, policy essays, critical summaries, graphics, annotated bibliography, quiz, in-class writing assignment, and portfolio appear in bold.

  August September October November December
Tuesday 25 1,8,10,22,


6,13,20,27 3,10,17,24 1
Thursday 27 3,10,17,24 1,8,15,22,29 5,12,19 3


You will be graded on your written assignments. They will all be computer-generated and assembled in a portfolio.

Assignment Weight
Three policy essays of 1500 words each 30%
Two critical summaries (no more than 700 words each) of article- or chapter-length assignments . 5%
Four graphics created by spreadsheet programs. ----
An annotated bibliography of no more than three items, providing information about sources for statistical data on income and population. 5%
Video presentation, using slides. 5 minutes in length. 5%
Analysis of an op-ed piece (500 words) 5%
One quiz 5%
Two brief policy memos (no more than 700 words) 20%
One in-class writing assignment 5%
A portfolio that will show your history & public policy skills and knowledge to a prospective employer or graduate school interviewer. The portfolio will include at least eight of the assignments you have submitted this term. It requires a title page, a table of contents, and an introductory overview and commentary (see handout). 20%

Classes & Assignments

Classes will be conducted on the basis of lecture and discussion. On-time attendance is expected, as it would be in any work environment. Religious observances and medically excused illness are the recognized exception. Most assignments will be made from the books on your "buy" list and the video reserve. Some news articles and op-ed pieces that deal with public policy will be distributed in class. Your syllabus is keyed to the booklet "Assignments on the Federal Budget," included in the course packet.

I. The American Political System

Aug. 25 The Uses of History: Jefferson and Self-Renewal
Phillips, Arrogant Capital, 5-51.
These two chapters are about the capacity of the American political system for self-renewal. Since 1968, Phillips argues, our political system has been in a dangerous new phase. What is his argument? How does he use history and comparative analysis to make his case?

Aug. 27 Economic and cultural decline; Finance and Public Debt
Phillips, Arrogant Capital, 57-72, 79-110.
What is meant by "decline." What makes it "familiar" to the historian? How does the economy play a role in cultural decline? How do capital flows and investment affect the political system?

Sept. 1 Renewal
Phillips, Arrogant Capital, 183-213.
Phillips offers ten proposals for renewing the American political system. Write a brief policy memo on one proposal (either #3, #8, #9 or # 10). Consider your reader as someone who has not read this book but who has a citizen's interest in resolving the problems that Phillips addresses. For the proposal you have selected, your memo should answer in no more than 700 words the following four questions: What are the proposal's specific features? What problems does it seek to address? What is the relationship of this proposal to the others that the author introduces? What are its strengths and its weaknesses? Examples of briefing papers and memoranda can be found in the papers of the late Senator John Heinz, made available on the Web in August, 1997. (See handout) They are the only Congressional papers accessible electronically, the largest archival electronic data project in the United States, and a Carnegie Mellon "first". I have selected a few items from the papers to distribute to you in class. Note the brevity and conciseness of the memos, the assumption that this information will be useful for decision-making by the senator and members of the staff, and the use of bullets where appropriate. Bring a hard copy of your own memo to class. The briefing paper must fit on no more than two 8 1/2 x 11 pages [select your own format, font and font size]. Place copies of your memo in a dropbox and your own classroom folder on the HSSHELIOS server. See the handout for instructions.

II. Renewal, the Debt, and the Federal Budget

Sept. 3 The Federal Budget
A Citizen's Guide to the Federal Budget, FY 1998, pp. iii-15.
What is the federal budget? What are the "big-ticket" items? Who are the beneficiaries in each category? Examine the pie chart on the cover of your exercise booklet.

Sept. 8 The Debt, Deficits, and Budget Priorities
A Citizen's Guide to the Federal Budget, FY 1999, pp.17-40.
Class discussion of the debt and its history, along with strategies to reduce it. Do Exercise 1: Interest on Public Debt in your exercise booklet. Bring a copy to class.

Sept. 10 Action on the Public Debt
Short policy memo on the Public Debt, the same length as the first memo, with a member of Congress as the intended reader. Address these five questions: What is the size of the debt? When did it first begin to grow? Why is it a source of public concern? What action should be taken to to reduce or eliminate it? What are the likely positive and negative consequences of such action? Incorporate into your text the graphic you prepared for the last class, improving its format and headings as needed.

III. Gender and public policy: The single mother

Sept. 15 Welfare and Women
Preview in class of "Rosa Lee's Confession."
What keeps Rosa Lee from pulling herself and her family out of poverty? Is the American welfare system at fault?
Read Rodgers, Jr., Poor Women, Poor Children, chapters 1,2 and 3.
Write an essay addressing the following questions: Why does marriage have a significant impact on the ability to escape poverty? To what extent is poverty in America tied to the economic and social problems of single-parent households? To what extent is "family values" an economic issue? 1500 words.

Sept. 17 AFDC and Food Stamps
Rodgers, Jr., Poor Women, Poor Children, chapter 4.
What are the major components of the American welfare response to poverty? What was AFDC and what is the Food Stamp program?
[AFDC Update: In August, 1996, as part of welfare cost reduction legislation, AFDC ceased to operate as an entitlement program, and was replaced by block grants to the states. The states were asked to set term limits (5 years) on cash grant support, and to require recipients of this aid to find work (within 2 years). Different states have tried to reach this goal in different ways. Restrictions were also placed on the eligibility of legal immigrants for food stamps.]
Do Exercises 3 (Food Stamps and Child Nutrition) and 4 (ADC/AFDC) from Assignments on the Federal Budget,. Print out both and bring to class.

Sept. 22 What Other Nations Do
Rodgers, Jr., Poor Women, Poor Children, chapters 5 and 6.
How is the American welfare system like and unlike that in Western Europe? Discussion in class of a "cradle to grave" graphic of the Swedish system.
ASSIGNMENT #5: GRAPH What is Social Security? Who pays? Who benefits? How does privatization enter the discussion of social security? Do Assignments on the Federal Budget, Exercise 2 (Social Security). Bring to class.

IV. Media presentations using data sets

Sept. 24 Data Sources
Prepare and bring to class an annotated bibliography (3 items) on data sources for U.S. income and/or population (see handout). Select one item from each of the three indicated categories. Each annotation should be limited to three to five sentences In your description of the three sources selected, indicate what data each contains, where and how the data was gathered, what years are represented, and how the data is presented or coded. For this assignment, confine your search to Carnegie Mellon's holdings.

Sept. 29 Trend Analysis and Public Policy
Changes in population and wealth have public policy implications. Using a data set that you have uncovered (not necessarily one of the three discussed in your last assignment), produce a graphic on income and/or population change for some specific age group and region over a period of 30 to 60 years. Bring in your graphic and be prepared to discuss the changes over time, possible explanations for those changes, and their public policy implications.

October 1 and October 6
Recent Trends and Their Policy Implications. Media classroom videotaping sessions. Five-minute individual presentations with one to three slides (overhead transparencies).

V. Political Economy and the Poor Laws

[There are four classes in this segment. By October 21, both sections of the class will again be on the same schedule.]

October 8 Work and Welfare
What is the relationship between work and welfare?
Course packet, A Primer, pp. 38-74.

October 13 Political Economy and Welfare
Townsend, A Dissertation on the Poor Laws, Intro. through p. 8 (middle of second column).
When did Townsend write this? What is his argument? Why is it of interest in current policy debates?

October 15 Toward a Solution?
Townsend, A Dissertation on the Poor Laws, pp. 8-end.
What is Townsend's plan to solve the problem of poverty? Could it work? Under what conditions?

October 20 American Public Opinion and Welfare Reform
Class packet, Public Opinion on Welfare Reform, pp. 109-152.
To what extent does American public opinion about welfare reflect the positions staked out by Joseph Townsend two centuries ago? How do you account for the similarities? How would you account for the differences? Second policy essay is due. Place it in your workfile on the server and bring a paper copy to class.

VI. Poverty in the Midst of Plenty

Oct. 22 The 1930s and the 1960s
Michael Harrington, The Other America, pp. 1-100
Preview in class of America's War on Poverty: Vol. I.
Some questions: When does the struggle against poverty at a federal level begin? How was poverty tied to coal, migration and racial discrimination? How did poverty become an issue in the presidential campaigns of the 1960s? How did the Great Society programs deal with housing, job creation and welfare?

Oct. 27 War on Poverty
Michael Harrington, The Other America:. pp. 100-191,215-31.
Preview in class of America's War on Poverty: Vol. V.
President Richard Nixon's Family Assistance Program promised income maintenance for the working poor. It was passed by the House and defeated in the Senate in 1970. How did President Nixon come to support so radical a measure? Why was it supported in the House? Why did it fail? Is it an appropriate way to deal with the problem of poverty?

Oct. 29 Migration and Marginalization
Jacqueline Jones, "Southern Diaspora: Origins of the Northern "Underclass," in Michael B. Katz, ed., The Underclass Debate, pp. 27-54.
Why did migration from the South bring marginalization for rural blacks and Appalachian whites? Jones challenges the thesis of Ždependency'. How is the argument about dependency relevant to current debates about welfare policy?

Nov. 3 Changing Structures and Detroit
Thomas Sugrue, "The Structures of Urban Poverty," in Michael B. Katz, ed., The Underclass Debate, pp. 85-117.
What are Sugrue's three propositions? How does he support his argument? What role do the changing structures of the economy, race relations, and housing play in this analysis? What role does Detroit play as historical example?
ASSIGNMENT #10: Critical Summary 1

Nov. 5 Revisionist Argument: the Uses of Statistics
Mark Stern, "Poverty and Family Composition Since 1940," in Michael B. Katz, ed., The Underclass Debate, pp. 220-253.
In his conclusion, Stern notes the following: "The underclass worked more and relied on family more and welfare less to escape poverty. The mainstream had less secure job histories, was more at risk of poverty, and relied on government handouts more than we generally believed." How do the more than a dozen tables in this chapter support or challenge these arguments?

Nov. 10 Family Strategies
Andrew T. Miller, Social Science, Social Policy, and the Heritage of African-American Families" in Michael B. Katz, ed., The Underclass Debate, pp. 254-289.
What do social scientists mean by Žfamily strategies'? How do such strategies affect birth patterns, marriage patterns, and child-rearing? What is the evidence for a distinctive African-American family model?

Nov. 12 Education and Poverty
Harvey Kantor and Barbara Brenzel, "Urban Education and the Truly Disadvantaged," in Michael B. Katz, ed., The Underclass Debate, pp. 366-402.
How have changes in the economy and society since the end of World War II affected urban education? What benefits can poor and minority children expect from schooling? What factors could change the urban public school experience for poor and minority children?
ASSIGNMENT #11: Critical Summary 2

Nov. 17 Historians and the policy debate about poverty Michael Katz, "Reframing the ŽUnderclass Debate'", in Michael B. Katz, ed., The Underclass Debate, pp. 440-477.
Why can't poverty be assigned very simply to individual and family behavior? How have historians widened the understanding of American poverty? How should the War on Poverty be judged?

Nov. 19
What has historical research contributed to our understanding of poverty and the underclass?

VII. Values and Public Life

The last three meetings of this class will be devoted to the uses of history and moral argument in discussions of American public policy. You will have an in-class writing assignment, a critique of an op-ed column, and a discussion of your portfolios (due December 3).

Nov. 24 Victorian Values Preview of Gertrude Himmelfarb, "Culture And Morality In America". Gertrude Himmelfarb is a distinguished historian of nineteenth century England and an important voice in current policy debates. We will watch and listen to her talk, given earlier this year in Washington, D.C..
In your essays, address these questions: What is Himmelfarb's argument? How does it bear on welfare policy debates?

December 1 Op-Ed Commentary, Values and Public Policy
(see handout), to be included in your portfolio.

December 3 Portfolio Discussion and Review of Semester's Work.
Bring in your portfolios. The portfolio requires a title page, a table of contents, and an introductory overview and commentary (see handout). Include at least 8 of the assignments you have submitted this term.