Philanthropy and Historical Research

Undergraduate Seminar on the History of Philanthropy

Editors’ Note: Last August, I shared with readers my syllabus for a graduate seminar on the history of philanthropy. In a similar spirit, I am including below an undergraduate version of that class which I will be teaching this fall. Of course, and as always, please feel free to reach out with feedback and suggestions both on this particular post and HistPhil more generally. For my other course syllabi, by the way, please feel free to visit my syllabi page

-Maribel Morey, HistPhil co-editor

THE PUBLIC ROLE OF PRIVATE WEALTH

HON H200, FALL 2018

PROFESSOR MARIBEL MOREY

Course Description:  At first glance, nonprofit organizations in the United States—from the Sierra Club and the American Red Cross to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—might seem to be rather uncontroversial, benevolent actors serving the public good. As nonprofits, they are neither representing the profit-seeking motives of the private sector nor the perceived inefficiencies of the public sector. From this perspective, nonprofit organizations might appear to incorporate the best of both the private and public realms. And yet, as we will discuss in this seminar, Americans long have debated the democratic value of these organizations. After all, U.S. nonprofits—much like governments at the local, state, and federal levels in the U.S.—aim to shape public policies. Unlike their public analogues, however, these private institutions are largely unaccountable to their publics. The U.S. public, for example, does not elect the staff and trustees at these organizations nor does it have access to these organizations’ decision-making practices: forms of public accountability that Americans expect from their public institutions.

Adding yet another layer of stress to the public role of these private organizations in democratic life, Americans long have questioned if some of these nonprofits—particularly wealthy philanthropies such as the Gates, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations—overpower individual citizens’ presumed equal right to shape public life.

Taking a historical lens to the complex role of these wealthy philanthropic organizations in the U.S. since their genesis in the Gilded Age, we will continuously return to the central question of this seminar: Have elite philanthropies—and nonprofits more generally—furthered or undermined democratic life in the United States throughout the past centuries?

Course Requirements: Students will be required to write a first paper (5-7 pp.) discussing and relating two class readings; a second paper (5-7 pp.) building on at least four class readings; and, a final paper (7-10 pp.) incorporating class readings and other primary/secondary sources sought by the student. For this final paper, students will examine a general research question of interest to them (assuming the instructor’s approval).

Please note, no grade is offered for general class participation. The instructor takes for granted that students, eager to absorb the material and thus to do well on their papers and presentations, will participate throughout the semester. Instead, students will receive grades for specific reading and research presentations. For the former, students will select a day to lead the seminar’s analysis of the readings. For the latter, students will translate their final research paper into a seminar presentation during the final week of class.

Required Books:

  • Andrew Carnegie, The Gospel of Wealth and Other Writings (NY: Penguin Random House, 2006).
  • John Ehrenberg, Civil Society: The Critical History of an Idea (NYU Press, 1999).
  • Philanthropy in Democratic Societies (eds. Rob Reich, Chiara Cordelli, and Lucy Bernholz) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).
  • Ron Chernow, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (New York: Vintage Books, 1998).
  • Alice O’Connor, Social Science for What? Philanthropy and the Social Question in a World Turned Rightside Up (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2007).
  • Karen Ferguson, Top Down: The Ford Foundation, Black Power, and the Reinvention of Racial Liberalism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).
  • Megan Tompkins-Stange, Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform, and the Politics of Influence (Cambridge: Harvard Education Press, 2016).

 

Course Outline and Reading Assignments:

  •  The History of Civil Society (Weeks 1-2)
    • Readings:
      • John Ehrenberg, Civil Society: The Critical History of an Idea (NYU Press, 1999).
  • The Legal Genesis of Nonprofits in the U.S. (Weeks 3-4)
    • Readings:
      • Jonathan Levy, “Altruism and the Origins of Nonprofit Philanthropy,” in Philanthropy in Democratic Societies (eds. Rob Reich, Chiara Cordelli, and Lucy Bernholz) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).
      • Peter Dobkin Hall, “A Historical Overview of Philanthropy, Voluntary Associations, and Nonprofit Organizations in the United States, 1600-2000,” in The Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook (eds. Walter W. Powell and Richard Steinberg) (second edition) (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006).
      • Peter Frumkin, “The Idea of a Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector,” in On Being Nonprofit: A Conceptual and Policy Primer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).
  • The Gilded Age and Nonprofit Organizations (Week 5-7)
    • Readings:
      • Ron Chernow, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (New York: Vintage Books, 1998).
      • Andrew Carnegie, The Gospel of Wealth and Other Writings (NY: Penguin Random House, 2006).
  • The Early Twentieth Century and the Natural Sciences (Weeks 8-9)
    • Readings:
      • Excerpt from: Robert E. Kohler, Partners in Science: Foundations and Natural Scientists 1900-1945 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1991).
      • Excerpt from: Frederick P. Keppel, The Foundation (New York: MacMillan Company, 1930).
  • The Social Sciences (Weeks 10-11)
    • Readings:
      • Alice O’Connor, Social Science for What? Philanthropy and the Social Question in a World Turned Rightside Up (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2007).
      • Excerpt from: David L. Seim, Rockefeller Philanthropy and Modern Social Science (London: Routledge, 2013).
      • Morag Bell, “American Philanthropy, the Carnegie Corporation and Poverty in South Africa,” Journal of Southern African Studies 26(3) (Sept. 2000).
  • The Black Freedom Struggle (Week 12)
    • Readings:
      • Karen Ferguson, Top Down: The Ford Foundation, Black Power, and the Reinvention of Racial Liberalism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).
      • Megan Ming Francis, “Do Foundations Co-Opt Civil Rights Organizations?,” HistPhil (August 17, 2015), at histphil.org.
  • Philanthropy into the Twenty-First Century (Weeks 13-14)
    • Readings:
      • Megan Tompkins-Stange, Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform, and the Politics of Influence (Cambridge: Harvard Education Press, 2016).
      • From Philanthropy in Democratic Societies (eds. Rob Reich, Chiara Cordelli, and Lucy Berholz), read Rob Reich, “On the Role of Foundations in Democracies”; Aaron Horvath and Walter W. Powell, “Contributory or Disruptive: Do New Forms of Philanthropy Erode Democracy?”; and, Chiara Cordelli, “Reparative Justice and the Moral Limits of Discretionary Philanthropy.”
  • Seminar Presentations (Week 15)
    • During the final week, seminar participants will present to the class a summary of their final papers.

 

 

 

One thought on “Undergraduate Seminar on the History of Philanthropy

  1. With thanks to Maribel for generously sharing her exemplary syllabus, I’d like to make two strategic suggestions for all those teaching similar courses these days:

    First, it may be helpful to bear in mind that these courses are for young students, to enhance their future amateur or professional careers in philanthropy. Therefore, because philanthropy in America has been being transformed before our eyes for the last two decades by the broader IT revolution, we might want to build into our courses strong future-oriented components—which Maribel adumbrates in her last section. The strategic future of philanthropy—where it all might foreseeably be heading in their lifetimes—is what will most affect today’s students. Therefore that transformational process should be a central theme of today’s courses, critically important for students to have grasped as they begin their careers.

    Second, courses in the history of American philanthropy today need to acknowledge the recently illuminated facts that the United States was literally founded by philanthropy, to be a philanthropic nation. In the colonies de Tocqueville’s “voluntary associations” were “private initiatives, for public good”—philanthropy of volunteering more than fundraising. Ben Franklin’s “volunteer military association” was a prototype of the Revolution; Sam Adams’ call for voluntary associations to be created throughout the Colonies to promote independence, responded to by the Sons of Liberty and Committees of Safety. The Declaration of Independence was necessarily a “private initiative for public good”. Paul Revere’s riders, the Revolutionary Army itself at first, General Washington’s service “pro bono publico” and signing his letters “Philanthropically yours”, the opening lines of Hamilton’s First Federalist, all explicitly mentioned “philanthropy” in its clear Enlightenment and ultimately Classical tradition of “loving humanity” in the sense of “what it is to be human.” The suggestion that the history of American philanthropy _began_ with the large private foundations at the end of the 19th century has now been shown to be factually incorrect. There is an N-Gram proving this, showing that the word “philanthropy” was much more commonly used at the end of the 18th century and in the mid-19th century (with anti-slavery and women’s rights) than later, but I don’t know how to upload it into this Comment.

    Thanks again to Maribel for her valuable sharing.

    Like

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