National History Center

Putting Zika in Historical Context

The Zika virus has recently announced its unwelcome arrival in the continental United States. In addition to over 2,500 individuals who have contracted the disease abroad, some 50 locally generated cases have been confirmed in Florida. Many more cases are anticipated. With the public health resources needed to combat the disease running dry, the administration has requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding. As usual, however, Congress is gridlocked, and it’s anybody’s guess whether a funding bill will pass before members leave Washington to campaign for reelection.

September 20, 2016

How the Culture of “Welfare Reform” Changed the US Army

 By Jennifer Mittelstadt

August 22, 2016, will mark the 20th anniversary of Bill Clinton’s signing of the 1996 welfare reform act, the law that “ended welfare as we knew it.” The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) marked a historic break from the federal government’s commitment to aid poor women and children. It imposed strict employment requirements on recipients of public funds and limited lifetime eligibility for support to no more than five years. As historical retrospectives and evaluations emerge, few recognize the extraordinary impact of the welfare reform agenda beyond the low-income single mothers it targeted.

The Surprisingly Short History of American Secrecy

 By Sam Lebovic

Amid the recent hubbub about leaks and whistleblowers and Hillary Clinton’s rogue server, it has been easy to forget what a state secret actually is. Legal commentators and political pundits tend to think about state secrecy in the abstract terms of political philosophy. Perhaps secrecy is always undemocratic, appropriate only for absolutist or totalitarian states. Perhaps it is an unavoidable necessity in a hostile world—democratic governments find themselves forced to keep secrets to protect the security of the public.

Teaching the End of Empire: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Decolonization

By Jessica Pearson-Patel

In the summer of 2013, I had the incredible fortune to participate in the National History Center’s 8th International Seminar on Decolonization in Washington, DC. I had just received my PhD in history and French studies at New York University and was about to start a postdoc at Tulane University. Although much of the seminar focused on helping participants advance their own research projects on the history of decolonization, I found that some of the most engaging conversations I had with both the seminar faculty and with my fellow participants centered on teaching.

The Aftertaste of Empire: Food and Decolonization

By Amanda Banacki Perry

“I’m not getting curry powder at all. Being a Brit, we eat a lot of curry, and I don’t taste it in this.” As I was watching Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship, this comment by Lorraine Pascale, one of the judges on the show, jumped out at me. Her comment, which drew on a legacy of presumed British culinary expertise concerning curry, carried a clear message: Brits know their curry.[1] And yet, the process by which curry became one of the most popular dishes in modern Britain is a complicated one of imperial appropriation, invention, and transformation.

The Opioid Crisis in Historical Perspective

Prince is just the latest high-profile victim of an opioid addiction crisis that has devastated families and communities across the country in recent years. The problem has drawn widespread media coverage and spurred Congress into action, a rarity in the current political climate. Both the Senate and the House have recently passed legislation to address the crisis. Yet this is hardly the first time the United States has grappled with drug epidemics. What can we learn from past problems and the policies instituted to combat them?