Jerome Karabel, Professor

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

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

Outlier Nation: The Roots and Consequences of American Exceptionalism

The United States has always been exceptional – both for better and for worse. Its distinctive form of democratic capitalism has made the United States the world leader in scientific and technological innovation, the world's leading economy, and home to (by some counts) 14 of the world's top 20 universities. At the same time, the United States has the highest murder rate, the highest per capita rate of incarceration, the highest child poverty rate, the highest rate of infant mortality, and is the only nation without universal healthcare or legally guaranteed vacation days among its peer nations. Understanding why is a key goal of the project, a historical-comparative study of the United States and 19 other wealthy democracies. In order to do this, we will seek to identify the deep historical roots of American exceptionalism, tracing its development over the course of American history.

Two central themes will be the exceptional character of relations between capital and labor (why is the United States the only advanced industrial country never to generate a mass working-class socialist party?) and the exceptional character of race relations between blacks and whites, extending from slavery to Jim Crow to the post-Jim Crow regime of institutional racism. A third major theme will be the racial boundaries of American citizenship that for much of American history excluded not only African-Americans, but also Chinese, Japanese, Native-Americans, and (at times) Mexican-Americans. This history will hopefully illuminate some of the underlying dynamics that led to the election of Donald Trump.

The study will conclude with a discussion of recent efforts to measure "social well-being" and an assessment of where the United States ranks today among its peers on this dimension. Because of the historical and social-scientific character of the project, undergraduates in history, political science, economics, and sociology are especially encouraged to apply.

Review bodies of literature and write memos/papers with Professor Karabel's close guidance.

Qualifications: Strong analytical, research, and writing skills.

Weekly Hours: 9-11 hrs

Off-Campus Research Site: Professor Karabel will meet in-person with students who are on campus, and remotely with those who are not in Berkeley.