Jerome Karabel, Professor

Closed (1) American Exceptionalism and the Quality of Life: the United States in Historical and Comparative Perspective

Applications for Spring 2018 are now closed for this project.

A historical-comparative research project on the quality of life in the contemporary United States and the roots of American exceptionalism would like to add an undergraduate in history or social science with knowledge of the internet willing to work nine hours per week. This project will address, from a comparative and historical perspective, three broad questions about the United States: the extent to which its social order fundamentally differs from those of other wealthy democracies, the historical roots of these differences, and the social, political, and economic determinants of differences in societal well-being. Because of the importance of the historical and economic dimensions to the larger project, undergraduates in history (and especially American or European history) are particularly welcome.

One of the great paradoxes of the last fifty years is that a successful effort to radically increase gross domestic product (GDP) per capita – the driving force behind much of public policy in the advanced societies – has not been accompanied by an increase in human happiness. Society – including policy makers, journalists, and academics – has been slow to grasp the implications of this paradox. But in recent years a growing number of analysts from both within and without government have increasingly come to recognize that some fundamental rethinking is in order. This, in turn, has led to a renewed interest in social well-being and to “quality of life” issues not as a substitute for, but as a complement to, more traditional measures of economic performance. With this realization in mind, the current project will examine the historical roots of particular aspects of American exceptionalism (including America’s distinctive constitutional order, the failure to form a mass-based socialist or labor party, the absence of universal health care, and an extremely harsh criminal justice system that continues to practice capital punishment) and the ways in which today’s distinctive social and economic order contributes to -- and detracts from -- the overall subjective well-being, quality of life, and societal health of the contemporary United States.

Review bodies of literature and write memos/papers; internet searches.

Qualifications: Strong analytical, research, and writing skills.

Weekly Hours: 9-12 hrs