How has American society defined and dealt with poverty? Should "the poor" be forced to work, be objects of pity, have the right to basic necessities? And what does it mean to designate a human beings as "poor" in the first place? Americans have debated these questions for generations, and indeed debates about welfare policy remain central to contemporary politics. Our answers implicate not only our society's treatment of those who live below the poverty line, but broader questions of American identity and of the government’s role in the lives of citizens. In this research seminar, we will examine the history of social welfare and government benefits in the United States from the colonial period to the present. Chronologically, we will devote half the term to the second half of the 20th century, and we will learn about the development of the peculiarly American private welfare system and the welfare rights movement. We will pay special attention to the positions and subjectivities of reformers, bureaucrats, social workers, and aid recipients. In other words, we will ask how reformers, social workers, and welfare recipients have related to each other, how their relative positions in society have influenced how they have acted, and what the power relationships have been among them. We will read books by Michael Katz and Annelise Orleck. Students will write their own histories of welfare, using archival documents and secondary sources.