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.

Pioneering Journalist Cokie Roberts Dies

Cokie Roberts, the famed journalist, historian, and National History Center board member, has died.  Much admired for her balanced political commentary and engaged historical studies of America’s ‘founding women,’ her passing is a loss for us all.

Ariel Zambelich/NPR

For more information on Cokie’s life and publications:

History of health care

At our first summer Congressional Briefing at the end of June, Beatrix Hoffman (Northern Illinois University) and Nancy Tomes (Stony Brook University) traced the history of health care and insurance in the U.S. in light of present debates. Moderated by Alan Kraut (American University), the briefing reviewed the ways that the federal government has considered and intervened in the provision of health care and insurance since the early 20th century; how these systems have developed with the help of federal funding; and what congressional legislators can do in the present and near future about the broader health care system in the US.

Historians discussed the history of health care policy since World War I. Topics included the roots of the modern health care system, the medical field’s transformation into a business, and disparities in insurance coverage.

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.

Bringing History to Capitol Hill

By Dane Kennedy

When’s the last time you heard a historian give expert testimony to Congress?  Plenty of economists, political scientists, and other experts do so, but historians—not so much.  Yet it seems self-evident that our legislators would benefit from historical perspectives on the problems they face.  It would help them to know, for example, how those problems arose and whether previous measures eased or exacerbated them.  In short, legislators can learn from the past.

National History Center congressional briefing on the history of U.S. gun rights and regulations, March 8, 2019. Photo © Bruce Guthrie

This is the reason the National History Center launched its congressional briefing program.  It believes that Congressional policy-makers benefit from the professional expertise of historians.  The early briefings were unfunded and irregular, but participants included renowned historians like John Hope Franklin and Eric Foner.  In 2014, the Center received a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to hold four briefings per year.  A renewal of the grant a year and a half ago has allowed us to expand the program to six briefings a year.

How do the briefings work?  First, we identify a topic that is timely and relevant to the concerns of Congress.  Then we find two or three historians who are specialists in the history of the topic and ask them to work together on a briefing presentation.  Once the briefing date is set, we engage in extensive outreach to Congressional staffers, especially those who serve on relevant committees: they are our target audience.  We hold the briefings in a House meeting room, booked for us by the staff of a Congressman who shares our belief in the importance of history.  The briefing lasts an hour, with our historians giving formal remarks for the first 30 minutes, followed by another half hour of questions and answers.  C-SPAN regularly films and broadcasts the briefings, ensuring they reach a wider audience.

Continue reading Bringing History to Capitol Hill