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Research Workshop: The Controversy About Poverty in Sixties America


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.

Please note: To follow the course, you will need a membership of the Koninklijke Bibliothek in Den Haag. KB has a wealth of sources for our topic online. Please have a look at its digital resources before the first class.


Although the United States turned into the world’s first “affluent society” (J.K. Galbraith) in the wake of World War II, about a quarter of the population continued to live in poverty in the eary Sixties. In response to several studies documenting the persistence of need and growing political pressure not least from the Civil Rights movement, President Lyndon B. Johnson delared the “War on Poverty” in 1964, initiating a range of measures to enhance economic opportunity for marginalized citizens. While civil rights legislation, welfare measures, and strong economic growth resulted in falling poverty rates in the Sixites, conservatives launched a sustained backlash against anti-poverty measures as well as against prominent groups among the poor themselves that have shaped debates about social policy in the United States to this day.

We will approach the histories of poverty, of anti-poverty measures as well as of critical conservative opposition through a variety of sources including oral history interviews, testimonies to Congressional committees, speeches, press articles, and documentary photography. The main aim of the course consists in assessing the advantages and limitations of these source types.

No initial exam.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
  2. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  3. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;
  4. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
  5. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, meeting the criteria of the discipline;
  6. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
  7. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;
  8. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;
  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following;
    -in the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities: international comparison and transfer; the analysis of the specific perspectives of secondary studies; a cultural-historical approach of politics and a political-historical approach of culture.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Workshop

The student has:

  1. Acquired a solid understanding of the controversies surrounding the issue of poverty in the USA in the 1960s;
  2. Presented the results of collaborative research with fellow students.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Workshop (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, the student is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Collaborative written paper (ca. 2.500-3000 words per person, based on research in primary sources)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8, 9-10, 11-12

  • Oral presentation:
    Measured learning objectives: 4-6, 11-12

  • Class participation:
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 6, 7, 9-10


  • Collaborative paper written by groups of three students each: 60% (this can be assessed jointly or individually, as each group prefers)

  • Oral group presentation: 30% (a group presentation on the paper topic; there will be one grade for the group effort)

  • Class Participation: 10%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers must be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace. Late submissions receive deductions of 10 percent per day.

Marking, feedback, resit:

You will get a chance to discuss your written paper if you choose to do so within 30 days of the release of the final grade. The instructor will post the details how this will be aarranged together with the grades. Written papers receiving a fail grade need to be revised in accordance with the instructor’s comments.

Reading list

At the beginning of the course, you will have to be familiar with the following works:

  • James T. Patterson, Grand Expectations: the United States, 1945-1975 (Oxford: 1996), chapter 18 and 19.

  • William H. Chafe, The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II (Oxford, 2007), chapter 8

  • Eva Bertram, The Workfare State: Public Assistance Politics from the New Deal to the New Democrats (Philadeplphia, 2015), Introduction and Chapter 1.

  • Bernhard Rieger, “You Have a Right to Live Decent in a Rich Country”, on-going manuscript (to be posted on Brightspace)


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.