New Acquisition: Governing America

Quirk, Paul J., and William E. Cunion. Governing America: Major Decisions of Federal, State, and Local Governments from 1789 to the Present. New York: Facts On File, 2011. Call number: Ref JK 468 .P64 Q55 2011.
 
This set contains essays on U.S. public policy, identifying the major actions that U.S. government has taken on those policies, the context for those actions, and the major provisions of each. The organization is thematic and the three volumes cover:

  • Economic policy (commerce, labor, railroad regulation, taxation, etc.)
  • Social and cultural policy (civil rights, family law, housing and urban policy, etc.)
  • Government, law enforcement, and foreign affairs (elections, immigration, diplomacy, the Federal Census, etc.).

Each signed article contains an overview of the topic, mentioning significant events, people, dates, and pieces of legislation, and ends with a bibliography of secondary-source materials on the topic.

So why would a genealogist be interested in this encyclopedia? We need to understand the context in which our ancestors lived. And we often need to understand the laws of the time to correctly interpret various documents. Consider these articles:

  • History of Veterans benefits (5 pages of background with suggestions for further reading).
  • Bancruptcy Law (your ancestor may have been impacted by the landmark post-Great Depression legislation)
  • Child labor legislation (Massachusetts enacted the first true child labor law in 1842, limiting a child’s workday to 10 hours)

Next time you visit the Newberry, stop by to check out this and other fascinating items in the 3rd floor reading room.

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