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Regulators: The Administrative State in Modern America
HIST 357
Spring 2019
Section: 01  

How much arsenic is permissible in drinking water? Should financial firms be required to hold on to some of the risky securities they issue? Can a company sell a jar of peanut butter that contains only 90% peanuts? In the modern United States, the answers to these questions are determined by the administrative state - a collection of dozens of regulatory agencies, bureaus, and commissions comprising millions of officials and staff. Historians, political scientists, and other scholars have long recognized the administrative state as an important site of governance. But unlike Congress, the courts, or the Presidency, most of us have little idea about what exactly the administrative state does, much less how these regulatory bodies came to have so much power and responsibility. EPA G-Men banging down doors in Springfield might get a laugh on "The Simpsons," but why do EPA special agents carry guns?

This course approaches the making of the administrative state as a central component in the history of the modern United States. The seminar begins in the late 19th century, when elected officials created commissions of experts in an attempt to govern an increasingly complex economy, and continues through the 20th century, with its bursts of new state authorities and responsibilities, before concluding in the present, asking what a long history of the administrative state can teach us about contemporary policy. To understand the context in which the administrative state emerged and evolved, we cast a wide net. Among other subjects, students will consider popular movements for environmental protection and worker safety, intellectual transformations in understandings of risk and public welfare, political fights over the scale and scope of the government, and biographies of regulators and the powerful institutions that they make up. Readings include classic texts and new scholarship across different disciplines, alongside contemporary journalism and novel approaches like podcasts - returning throughout the semester to the question of how we can tell an engaging and vital history of the administrative state. Toward that end, students will also explore a variety of different primary source materials throughout the semester before embarking on their own original research projects.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: SBS HIST
Course Format: SeminarGrading Mode: Graded
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: None
Past Enrollment Probability: 75% - 89%

Last Updated on JUN-16-2024
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