From the Editors / Political Scientists and Philanthropy

New Forum on Political Science and Philanthropy

Today, HistPhil begins a new forum on political science and philanthropy, curated by guest editors Sarah Reckhow and Delphia Shanks-Booth. Work from political scientists has been featured on the site in the past, from posts by Emma Saunders-Hastings and Megan Ming Francis to a more-recent discussion of political theorists Rob Reich and Chiara Cordelli’s new volume on philanthropy and democratic societies (co-edited with Lucy Bernholz). There is a growing community of scholars in both history and political science departments throughout the United States engaged in the academic study of philanthropy. At the same time, we recognize that historians and political scientists approach research questions differently. So, we wanted to dedicate a HistPhil forum to highlight the various approaches and distinctive contributions that political scientists are making to the study of philanthropy.

Historians of the United States (HistPhil‘s co-editors among them) have numerous reasons for studying philanthropy. For example, charitable and philanthropic giving (and participation in civil society more broadly) long has played an important role in American democratic life. By studying civil society, historians have an entry point for understanding American life throughout the past centuries. Since elite philanthropies have reflected and influenced numerous political, social, and cultural trends in the United States, studying these foundations helps historians explain continuity and change-over-time in American national, regional, and local life. Increasingly clear to all historians irrespective of geographic specialty, Americans in non-profit and philanthropic organizations also have played significant roles in other countries and regions. By analyzing these and other individuals in nonprofits and philanthropies around the world, historians gain a greater appreciation for the ebbs and flows of influence between people, organizations, and sectors over time and between national boundaries.

For political scientists, the starting point is understanding political processes. They want to analyze how societies govern themselves; how individuals and groups use various resources to influence the governing process; and how political institutions and actors shape the design of policies and distribute resources. Philanthropic patronage for groups engaged in influencing politics and philanthropic efforts to impact policy design have drawn the attention of political scientists, as evidenced by a recent special issue in the journal, PS: Political Science & Politics. Although political science research is often inspired by perennial questions and long-standing theoretical debates in the discipline (for instance, how does money impact the legislative process?), political scientists also keep a close eye on contemporary events, especially elections. Many political scientists such as Martin Gilens, Benjamin I. Page, Larry Bartels, and Suzanne Mettler, among others, have been examining the political consequences of rising economic inequality and the numerous pathways for high net-worth individuals to influence politics. The 2016 presidential election also has drawn further attention to rising populism in American politics. In this forum, several contributors will examine these themes using the theoretical lenses and empirical perspectives of political science.

Today, the forum begins with a contribution by Ted Lechterman.

As always, please email us at with comments and suggestions. If you’d like to respond to a post beyond the limitations of the comments sections, please contact us with blog post ideas. We also can be reached via Twitter, @HistPhil.

We hope that you enjoy the forum!

HistPhil co-editors Maribel Morey, Benjamin Soskis, Stanley N. Katz, and guest editors Sarah Reckhow and Delphia Shanks-Booth.

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