The Coronavirus pandemic has killed vast numbers of people across the world, transformed the work and home lives of many millions, and has sent many of the world’s economies into a tailspin. Indeed, the economic damage produced by the pandemic promises to challenge Americans and others abroad for years to come.
How should the federal government respond to the ongoing challenges generated by this crisis? This is a question that American citizens and their elected representatives have been debating passionately and loudly this year. Despite some fleeting moments of agreement on public policy responses over the past months, the question produces no single answer. Should the federal government continue to aid the victims, both businesses and individuals, harmed by the pandemic? What larger role should the government play in the economy going forward? Not surprisingly, Congress, our political parties, and Americans across the nation find themselves in disagreement about the path forward that the federal government should pursue.
This Congressional Briefing of the American Historical Association’s National History Center steps back from the current moment to explore the history of the federal government’s role in handling economic downturns and crises at various points in the twentieth century. Its subjects are the federal government’s response to the Great Depression of the 1930s, the economic downturns (admittedly far less severe than the Great Depression) in the 1950s, and the urban crisis of the 1960s — all moments when presidents and Congress debated and implemented a variety of programs designed to address economic distress. As always, our approach is nonpartisan and is not aimed at answering the question about the future. Rather, it is to show that the arguments about policy during our present crisis have counterparts in the past. As the American Historical Association frequently notes, everything has a history. This Congressional Briefing of the National History Center steps back from our current moment to explore the history of federal responses to economic crises at key moments in the last century.
Typically the NHC has held its Congressional Briefings on Capitol Hill in a House of Representatives conference room. In-person briefings are not possible at the moment. So we invite you to join the NHC for a virtual congressional briefing on the history of federal responses to economic crises.
Click here to register for the Zoom webinar. Space in the zoom webinar is limited and on a first come, first serve basis. If you are unable to join the webinar on Zoom, join us on our Facebook page where we will also streaming the event.
Eric Rauchway, University of California, Davis
Jennifer Delton, Skidmore College
Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University
Eric Arnesen, George Washington University
Eric Rauchway is the Distinguished Professor of History at the University of California, Davis. He holds a PhD in History from Stanford and an MA from Oxford, as well as a bachelor’s degree in history from Cornell. He is the author most recently of Winter War (2018) on the struggle between Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover during the presidential transition of 1932-1933, and Why the New Deal Matters, forthcoming 2021 from Yale University Press.
Jennifer Delton is Professor of History at Skidmore College in upstate New York. She holds a PhD in History from Princeton University and teaches courses in U.S. history since the Civil War. Her work focuses on liberalism, civil rights, and business in twentieth century U.S. She is the author of four books, including, most recently, The Industrialists: How the National Association of Manufacturers Shaped American Capitalism (Princeton UP, 2020).
Lizabeth Cohen is the Howard Mumford Jones Professor and Distinguished Service Professor in the History Department at Harvard. She served as Dean of Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study from 2011-18 She has an A.B. from Princeton and a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. Her books include Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 (1990), A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (2003), and Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age (2019). Making a New Deal and A Consumers’ Republic both won the Bancroft Prize for the best book in American history the year they were published. Other recent publications are “Lessons of the Great Depression,” (Atlantic, 2020) and two New York Times op-eds: “States Are in a Crisis” (April 29, 2020) and “Only Washington Can Solve the Nation’s Housing Crisis” (July 10, 2019).
Eric Arnesen is Professor of History at George Washington University. A specialist in the history of race, labor, politics, and civil rights, he is the author of two award-winning books — Brotherhoods of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality (2001) and Waterfront Workers of New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics, 1863-1923 (1991) — and the author, editor, or co-editor of five other books. He is the director of the American Historical Association’s National History Center and the co-chair of the Washington History Seminar.