The Circle of "We" and Policy History in the United States Since Reconstruction

History 285D.001

Spring 2013
Day & Time: 
Tu 10-12

In this graduate seminar, students will research and write a paper on a policy-oriented attempt to expand (or contract) the "circle of 'we'" in United States history since Reconstruction. The "circle of 'we'" refers to just who exactly is constituted by the "we" in the United States Constitution's "We the people." In theory, the "we" upon whom the Constitution bestows "liberty" and "justice" – the full rights and privileges of citizenship – in the quest to "form a more perfect union" is not circumscribed. In practice, of course, the "circle of 'we'" has never been as inclusive as the pronoun implies. One of the major themes in U.S. history is the struggle of individuals representing groups of people (including, ethnoracial and religious minorities, women, gays and lesbians, the disabled, the poor, and even non-citizens residing in the U.S. or U.S. territories) to enter into the "circle of 'we'" and, in the process, expand its boundaries and redefine its content. The papers to be written in this graduate research seminar should explore some topic that comports with the theme of "the circle of 'we'" in U.S. history and the struggle to expand (or contract) it since Reconstruction. Moreover, they should do so through the lens of policy history. Policy history calls for the weaving together of essential elements of the more established sub-fields of social/cultural ("bottom up") and political/legal history ("top down"). As defined by one leading policy historian, “Policy history allows historians to incorporate a broader range of actors into narratives than previous generations of historians have been able to do. The tension between scholars who study elite politics and grassroots politics quickly dissipates when policy is made the center of inquiry. After all, public policies are crafted by government officials in alliance with, and in response to, other social and political actors. Federal, state, and local policies influence – and are shaped by – all types of social actors and institutions.”