From Studying the Past to Influencing the Future: Historians and Public Policy

AHA Session 71
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Gibson Room (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Alison E. Isenberg, Princeton University
Becky Nicolaides, University of California, Los Angeles and Huntington-USC Institute on California & the West
Sara Patenaude, Tapestry Development Group
Emilie S. Stoltzfus, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress

Session Abstract

This roundtable brings together historians working beyond the professoriate in careers that call upon their historical expertise to influence public policy. While conversations about career diversity often focus on transferable skills, our discussion will focus on the role of expertise and content knowledge.The key question to be answered in this panel is, “What value do historians add by lending their expertise to policy-related conversations?”

Each of the panelists in this roundtable works in policy spaces directly related to their areas of historical interest. Becky Nicolaides is known for her books My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working-Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920-1965 and The Suburb Reader, co-edited with Andrew Wiese. After leaving a tenured post at UCSD in 2006 to become a historical scholar, writer, and consultant based in Los Angeles, she has consulted extensively on the Survey LA project for the City of Los Angeles and on other historic preservation projects. Emilie Stoltzfus is the author of Citizen, Mother, Worker: Debating Public Responsibility for Child Care after the Second World War, a study of grassroots activism and national and local policy debates concerning public funding of children's day care following World War II. In her role at the Congressional Research Service, Stoltzfus is the primary policy analyst for child welfare, offering guidance on development of new or revised policies related to the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect, children and families served by child welfare agencies, children in foster care, and those adopted from foster care. Sara Patenaude recently completed her PhD with a dissertation focused on the intersection of policy, politics, and city planning in the City of Baltimore’s public housing program. Her current work as a real estate and economic development consultant enables her to research and influence local policy decisions related to current affordable housing needs across Georgia and the southeast.

The historians chosen for this panel work on policy at various levels of government, from the state and local to the federal government. The implications of their work also vary: Stoltzfus directly influences legislation through her work at the CRS, Nicolaides consults on city planning and historic preservation projects while also impacting broader conversations about urban planning issues through her ongoing historical research, and Patenaude serves as a consultant informing informing elected officials and civil servants and encouraging state and local policy development.

In addition to discussion of the value historians add to policy work, bringing together these early- and mid-career professionals will provide insight into transitioning from academia into the policy world, navigating a career in policy-related fields, and maintaining a research agenda that has policy implications. The conversation will be guided by Alison Isenberg, Professor of History and Co-Director of the Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, Humanities at Princeton University. Before pursuing her Ph.D., Isenberg worked in affordable housing and parks planning in New York City, lending a depth of understanding to the opportunities and challenges inherent in policy work.

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