Category Archives: Congressional Briefings

The National History Center’s Congressional Briefings are designed to provide historical context and perspective on current issues for policy makers and members of their staff. The speakers reflect upon historical events and developments that have influenced the evolution of current policies and provide knowledge pertinent to the consideration of policy alternatives.

Policy and History in York, PA: College Students Brief Local Leaders

Drawing upon the model of the Congressional Briefing series and some of the examples from the History and Policy Education Program, Corey M. Brooks, Associate Professor of History at York College of Pennsylvania, developed a new course,  “Policy and History in York” for the Spring 2019 semester. His full reflections can be found here.

On a May night in downtown York, Pennsylvania, two blocks from city hall, I sat quietly as seven of my York College undergraduates expounded to politicians and community leaders on the histories of poverty in our community and of policy responses that had in years past attempted (and often failed) to meaningfully alleviate this deep-rooted problem.   Speaking for 90 minutes on subtopics they had selected themselves and researched over the course of a semester, these students together unfolded several key facets of the history of poverty policy in York.   The audience responded with rapt attention, as student research informed and energized attendees, including the city’s mayor, the city council president, the local constituent services director for the area’s U. S. Representative, and the CEO of York County’s official Community Action Agency.   After concluding their prepared remarks, students handled difficult, thought-provoking audience questions with comfort and skill.  Each student stood a little taller later that night as they mingled with local policymakers and college faculty.  In the process, they celebrated their hard work—work that might tangibly contribute to a community in which they now felt increasingly invested.

Welcome to York sign (Public domain)

The group had traveled quite a distance from our first class meeting in January.  At the outset, the students had little idea where they would direct their energies and widely varying experiences with history research, policy analysis, and local community engagement.  Guiding these students from that starting point to the final briefing event was perhaps the most demanding and most fulfilling teaching experience of my nine years at York College of Pennsylvania.  In this new “Policy and History in York” course, modeled on the National History Center’s congressional briefings, I challenged students to conduct the research necessary to become experts on the local history of policies that concern our community.  They then would have to work as a team to build and present a shared briefing for local decision makers.

I conceived of this course for two main reasons. The first was in response to the all too ubiquitous questioning, including (especially) in higher education itself, of the relevance of historical research.  Here was a course in which students would show peers, faculty, and the broader community how historical research could be brought to bear to contextualize current challenges.

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U.S. Gun Rights and Regulations

At our most recent Congressional Briefing in March, Saul Cornell (Fordham) and Darrell A. H. Miller (Duke) discussed the history of gun legislation and jurisprudence in a panel moderated by Karin Wulf (William & Mary). Past efforts at regulation since the revolutionary period speak to present and future efforts to legislate and rule legally on interpretations of the Second Amendment.

https://www.c-span.org/video/?458647-1/us-gun-rights-regulations

A video recording of the briefing can be found here, in C-SPAN’s video library.

A briefing summary, with bios of the panelists, is available here.

Congressional Reform

At February’s Congressional Briefing, “How Congress Reforms Itself: Historical Perspectives on Rules Changes” — recently aired on C-SPAN — leading historians of both bodies of Congress addressed past changes to rules and the overall history of congressional reform and rule changes since 1789. A panel of four historians — Matthew Wasniewski (House of Representatives), Daniel S. Holt (Senate), John Lawrence (University of California’s Washington Center), and moderator Michele Swers (Georgetown University) — presented perspectives on how these modifications have changed the way congress works over time, and they explored some of the unintended consequences of reform efforts.

A video recording of the briefing can be found here, in C-SPAN’s video library.

A briefing summary, with bios of the panelists, is available here.