School, Society, and State: A New Education to Govern Modern America, 1890-1940
Tracy L. Steffes

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Brown University

Primary Discipline

History of Education
This project explores the expansion and transformation of public schooling from 1890-1940 as a central American response to industrialization. While historians and social scientists have often puzzled why American social welfare policies were so weak and stingy compared to Europe, this project argues that public education reform was an underacknowledged, distinctly American effort to meet the same goals: to provide for the welfare of citizens, address the vagaries of the new industrial economy, and reconcile tensions between deepening economic inequality and political democracy. This project explores how and why Americans invested so heavily in schooling, how these reforms subtly transformed schooling into a more powerful project of social governance, and what consequences flowed from these choices. The project draws insights from the interdisciplinary social science effort to “bring the state back in” and from political and legal history to offer a synthetic reinterpretation of American education at a pivotal moment. This reinterpretation highlights the central role that schooling played as a site of governance and traces important changes in the legal and political power of schooling. It also places educational reform at the very center of the history of the period, including American progressive reform, responses to industrialization, and political development.
About Tracy L. Steffes

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