Syllabus Fall 2017: Poverty and Inequality in the Americas

HIST 600

Poverty and Inequality in the Americas


Professor Patrick Iber

Fall 2017 / W 1:20-3:15 / Humanities 5257



Poverty and inequality are not new problems, but they have recently become a central part of political conversation and debate. They are also getting sustained attention from social scientists from various disciplines. But what can historians offer the study of poverty and inequality? This course will introduce students to many ways that historians have, and are, trying to understand the impact of social inequality on history and human development. We will be focusing primarily on the Americas—especially the United States and Latin America—to be able to think about these issues in comparative contexts. The second half of the course will support students to write a research paper on a related topic.


Course texts:


Nancy Isenberg. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. New York: Viking, 2016.


David Brion Davis. Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.


Michael Harrington. The Other America: Poverty in the United States. (50th anniversary edition.) New York: Scribner, 2012.


Alejandro Velasco, Barrio Rising: Urban Popular Politics and the Making of Modern Venezuela. Oakland: University of California Press, 2015.


Optional: Wendy Pojmann et al., Doing History: An Introduction to the Historian’s Craft. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.




Course schedule:


Week 1, September 6: Introduction to the class


Before class, read Branko Milanovic, The Haves and the Have-Nots, pp. 149-170. Do the global income distribution exercise.



Week 2, September 13: Class in Early American History


Nancy Fraser, White Trash, 1-153



Week 3, September 20: Library week


We will be attending a workshop on local resources at the library this week.


Brief discussion of Barbara Fields, “Ideology and Race in American History”
Begin reading David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage, we will discuss it next week



Week 4, September 27: Comparative slavery
David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage [all]


Week 5, October 4: Inequality and 19th Century Capitalist Development


Kenneth L. Sokoloff and Stanley L. Engerman, “History Lessons: Institutions, Factor Endowments, and Paths of Development in the New World,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 14, no. 3 (Summer 2000): 217-232.


Moramay López Alonso, “Growth with Inequality: Living Standards in Mexico, 1850-1950,” Journal of Latin American Studies 39, no. 1 (Feb. 2007): 81-105.


Alan Dawley, “The Abortive Rule of Big Money,” in Ruling America, pp. 149-180.


Isenberg, White Trash, 174-230


Potential research topics due.


Week 6, October 11: The Postwar Rediscovery of Poverty


Michael Harrington, The Other America




Week 7, October 18: The Culture of Poverty Debates


Oscar Lewis, “The Culture of Poverty,” Scientific American 215, no. 4 (October 1966): 19-25.


Oscar Lewis, selections Five Families, pp. 211-292
Alice O’Connor, Poverty/Knowledge, Ch. 4, pp. 99-123


Karen Rosemblatt, “Other Americas: Transnationalism, Scholarship, and the Culture of Poverty in Mexico and the United States,” Hispanic American Historical Review 89, no. 4: 603-641.


Primary source analysis due.


Week 8, October 25: Poverty and Politics in a Developing Country


Alejandro Velasco, Barrio Rising


Proposal due.


Week 9, November 1: The World We Have Made I


Elizabeth Hinton, “A War Within Our Own Boundaries”: Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the Rise of the Carceral State,” Journal of American History, June 2015: 100-112.


Michael Lind, “Conservative Elites and the Counterrevolution against the New Deal,” in Ruling America, pp. 250-285.


Michael B. Katz, “The Rise and Fall of the ‘Underclass’,” from The Undeserving Poor, pp. 203-267.


Isenberg, White Trash, pp. 269-321



Week 10, November 8: The World We Have Made II


Mike Davis, “Planet of Slums: Urban Involution and the Informal Proletariat,” New Left Review 26, March/April 2004: 5-34.


Some additional links with short readings will be distributed.


Annotated bibliography due.


Week 11, November 15:


Individual meetings with instructor – no general class meeting.


Week 12, November 22:


The day before Thanksgiving: no class – work on your papers.



Week 13, November 29:


Bring first 10 pages of class for peer review; please bring two printed copies.


Week 14, December 6:


Presentations of nearly-finished work.




  • Course Participation (20%): Your attendance and participation in class discussions is essential to your success as a student and our success as a class. Active, engaged, and supportive participation will help everyone to do well.


  • Your research paper will be built over the course of the semester.


  • Potential Research Topics (5%): For this assignment, describe three potential topics that interest you and describe each one in a paragraph or two.


  • Primary Source Analysis (5%): For this assignment, each student will critically analyze a primary source of his or her choice. Select a primary source related to one of your potential topics. Print it out and then write 500 words analyzing what the primary source can tell you. Who is its author? When was it created? Why was it created? What can you learn about the assumptions and interests of the author (individual or institutional) by thinking about what it says and what it does not say?


  • Proposal (5%): The proposal is a preliminary statement that defines your topic, attempts to identify a thesis, and presents questions to be answered. You must describe the cache of primary sources that will form the foundation of your paper.


  • Annotated Bibliography (5%): The annotated bibliography will consist of a list of 5 primary and 5 secondary sources. It will also include an evaluative summary of each source and a description of how the source will be used.


  • Peer Review of Rough Draft (5%): Each student will read and critique a peer’s rough draft. A rubric for constructive criticism will be provided.


  • Presentation (5%): Each student will give a 10-minute presentation of their research. This presentation should summarize your research questions and major findings, and illustrate your paper with pictures and other media, where applicable.


  • Final Paper (50%): The final paper should be 15-20 pages in length, and reflect work with original, primary documents, and well as reading in the secondary literature relevant to your topic. It should situate itself within a broader historiography, make an argument based on the primary documents, and include proper citations.



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