The History of Poverty
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Level: Undergraduate
Division: The New School for Public Engagement
School: Bachelor's Program for Adults and Transfer Students
Department: Social Sciences
Course Number: NHIS 3470
Course Format: Lecture
Location: Online
Permission Required: No
  • History
  • Economic Development
  • Social Justice
The concept of poverty has alternated between a virtue, as in the early Christian and monastic traditions, and a sign of personal weakness, as in the individualist doctrines more familiar today. This course examines both the historical reality and the image of poverty. We investigate the living conditions and the laws and institutions affecting the poor at selected points in British, French, and U.S. history, as well as the role played by the "lower" social classes in making that history. We study poverty as it came into public consciousness in early modern Britain through powerful texts and visual art. We examine institutional responses, both private and governmental, such as debtor's prisons, foundling hospitals, and "philanthropy." We then look at the role of the disenfranchised in France during the 1789 Revolution and beyond and their fictional representation in Les Misérables and later in La Bohëme. We devote the second half of the course to policies and perceptions of poverty in the United States from the Great Depression to the present.
Course Open to: Degree Students