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Philanthropy in Democratic SocietiesHistory, Institutions, Values$
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Rob Reich, Chiara Cordelli, and Lucy Bernholz

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226335506

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226335780.001.0001

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Why Is the History of Philanthropy Not a Part of American History?

Why Is the History of Philanthropy Not a Part of American History?

(p.44) Two Why Is the History of Philanthropy Not a Part of American History?
Philanthropy in Democratic Societies

Olivier Zunz

University of Chicago Press

Historians of the United States neglect philanthropy, and this is a puzzling omission. It is not totally ignored. We find informed treatments of big money philanthropy in biographies of some major American figures. Hundreds of worthwhile monographs draw on archives kept in specialized repositories. However, philanthropy, writ large, does not rise to the status of a major topic. Why are more historians not trying to understand how the capitalist system, based on generating profit, can simultaneously produce a diverse, vigorous, and powerful nonprofit sector? Why are historians ignoring an enormous economic and experimental power, one that has mediated and continues to mediate much of the interaction between state and civil society, albeit without ever achieving full legitimacy as a democratic institution? How is it possible that important monographic work on the history of philanthropy does not significantly impact the larger narrative of American history? Why is it that historians, otherwise passionate about issues of social justice and expert in political economy, do not seem interested in the findings of specialists in philanthropy?

Keywords:   labor history, philanthropy, mass philanthropy, consensus history, social history, business history, women's history, diplomatic history, urban history, civil rights

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