AMERG041: From Skid Row to Obamacare: The Politics of Social Welfare in the United States since 1900

Term 2 (Spring Term)

Course Convenor: Prof Jonathan Bell


In this course we will examine the development of a welfare system in the United States, and ask why it took the shape that it did. We will examine the vitally important role the private sector has played in fashioning a social safety net in the US, not least in terms of health care. A study of the complex web of public and private health, retirement pension, unemployment insurance, family assistance and disability schemes sheds light on wider processes of class, racial, gender and sexual politics that will form a central part of the course. We will also place the US social welfare system in wider comparative perspective and will consider theoretical debates about the nature and purpose of public welfare and private charity in an industrial and post-industrial world.

Introductory Reading

  • Jonathan Bell , ‘“To Strive for Economic and Social Justice”: Welfare, Sexuality, and Liberal Politics in San Francisco in the 1960s,’ Journal of Policy History, 22:2 (2010), 193-225
  • Alan Derickson, Health Security for All: Dreams of Universal Health Care in America (Baltimore, 2005)
  • Meg Jacobs and Julian Zelizer, eds., 'Conservatives in Power: The Reagan Years, 1981-1989: A Brief History with Documents', (Boston, 2011)
  • Michael Katz, ‘The American Welfare State and Social Contract in Hard Times', Journal of Policy History, 22:4 (2010), 508-529
  • ___________, 'The Price of Citizenship: Redefining America’s Welfare State', (New York, 2002)
  • Jennifer Klein, ‘The Business of Health Security: Employee Health Benefits, Commercial Insurers, and the Reconstruction of Welfare Capitalism, 1945-1960,’ International Labor and Working Class History, 58 (Fall 2000), 293-313.
  • Premilla Nadasen, Jennifer Mittelstadt, and Marissa Chappell, M., 'Welfare in the United States: A History with Documents, 1935-1996', (New York, 2009)
  • James Patterson, 'America’s Struggle Against Poverty in the Twentieth Century', (Cambridge MA, 2000)
  • Theda Skocpol, 'Social Policy in the United States: Future Possibilities in Historical Perspective', (Princeton, 1995).