The Rise and Fall of Welfare States in Europe and North America

This graduate seminar historicizes the “welfare state,” that is, the state that attempts to protect and promote the economic and social wellbeing of its citizens. It charts its evolution from the 19th century to its consolidation in the interwar period in response to the fallout from World War One and the Great Depression, through its expansion in the wake of World War Two, to its widespread dismantling beginning in the 1970s. It looks at how European and North American states approached the problems of unemployment, poverty, housing, and public health, among other social issues. It examines historical debates about the appropriate extent of state intervention into private spheres; about questions of personal morality and virtue; about dependency, entitlement, and individual initiative; and about non-market versus market-based approaches. Finally, it explores the relationship between the development of the welfare state and economic shocks, war, and ideology. It does so in transnational and comparative perspective and across the Iron Curtain, looking at how states responded to both common and unique challenges.

The capstone assignment in this course is a 20-25-page (around 5000-6250 words) “lessons from history” policy paper in which you produce a historically grounded analysis of a contemporary socioeconomic issue confronting states in Europe and/or North America (e.g. unemployment, educational opportunities, access to affordable housing) drawing upon primary (e.g. newspaper articles, treatises, statistical data) and secondary evidence (i.e. written by scholars).

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