Assistant Professor of Education and History:
Education and History
Phone: +1 401 863 2894
Tracy Steffes is Assistant Professor of Education and History. Her primary research and teaching interests are twentieth century U.S. history, the history of American education, and political and policy history. Her first book, School, Society, and State: A New Education to Govern Modern America, 1890-1940 examined school reform as a national project of social policy and state-building. Her new project explores the state role in structuring educational opportunities in post-WWII metropolitan Chicago.
Tracy Steffes received her BA in history and political science from Western Michigan University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago. Before coming to Brown in 2007, she worked as a research assistant and consultant for the Newberry Library and National History Center and taught for one year at Denison University. Her first book, School, Society, and State: A New Education to Govern Modern America, 1890-1940, was published by University of Chicago Press in 2012 and supported by fellowships from the Miller Center for Public Affairs, Social Science Research Council Program on Philanthropy and the Non-Profit Sector, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Spencer Foundation/National Academy of Education. She is currently working on two new projects: a book project on city and suburban schools in post-WWII Chicago and a collaboration with a philosopher on the history and philosophy of educational assessment.
My research interests fall broadly into the categories of twentieth century United States political, legal, and intellectual history, American political development, and American education history and policy. Trained as a twentieth century historian, I am particularly interested in ideas and practices of governance, questions of democracy, equity and opportunity, and in the political, social, and intellectual development of modern America. I am also increasingly interested in contemporary education policy, reform, and public discourse and how historical perspective can inform them.
My first book, School, Society, and State: A New Education to Govern Modern America, 1890-1940 (University of Chicago Press, 2012) explores the connections between public school reform and American political development in the early twentieth century. It explores how an array of reformers across the nation, working from the top down and bottom up in ways both planned and improvised, expanded the reach of public schools, broadened their aims and activities, rationalized their organization and governance, strengthened state government oversight, developed a national policy conversation, and expanded public authority and oversight over children. In the process they expanded the institutions and authority of government into the everyday lives of children and families, developed a de facto national education system despite decentralized legal control, and positioned schools as social welfare institutions that would safeguard opportunity and provide for the welfare of citizens in an era of deepening economic inequality and instability. The book thus "brings the state back in" to the history of education and brings schools back in our discussions of state power during a pivotal moment in American political development.
I am currently at work on two new book projects. The first, tentatively titled A Reversal of Fortunes: City Schools and Suburban Schools in Metropolitan Chicago, 1945-2000, explores connections between public schooling and uneven metropolitan development. It asks how state policies, including funding formulas and aid, regulatory policies, and rules about district formation and governance, structured unequal schooling in metropolitan Chicago and considers how educational inequality shaped and deepened other forms of spatial and social inequality in postwar America. In addition, I am beginning a new collaboration on educational measurement, including the testing of students and assessment of school quality, to explore how historical and philosophical approaches can offer perspective on our current assessment regime.
Teagle-Sheridan Center Fellowship, Brown University, 2012-2013
National Forum on the Future of Liberal Education Fellow, 2009-2012
National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2010-2011
American Academy of Arts and Sciences Visiting Scholar, 2010-2011
Finalist, Spencer Foundation Exemplary Dissertation Award, 2009
Harry Barnard Dissertation Year History Fellowship, University of Chicago, 2005-2006 (declined)
Social Science Research Council Program on Philanthropy and the Non-Profit Sector Fellowship, 2004-2005
Miller Center for Public Affairs Fellowship, 2003-2004
University of Chicago Century Fellowship, 1998-2002
American Historical Association
Organization of American Historians
History of Education Society
American Educational Research Association
I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in the history of American education and twentieth century U.S. history, including History of American Education, Brown v. Board of Education, History of African American Education, Culture Wars in American Schools, Urban Schools in Historical Perspective, Rethinking Society in Modernizing America, and American Political History.
Robert L. Platzman Memorial Fellowship, University of Chicago Regenstein Library, 2012-2013
Albert Shanker Educational Research Fellowship, American Federation of Teachers, 2011-2012
Richard B. Salomon Faculty Research Award, Brown University, 2008-2009
National Parent-Teacher Association National Research Fellowship, 2008
Rockefeller Archive Center Grant, 2004
Doolittle-Harrison Research Grant, University of Chicago, 2003
Freehling Research Grant, University of Chicago, 2003