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Evolution of liberal politics & policy research

Univ Old Members’ Trust Graduate Travel Report – Nur Laiq (2020, DPhil History)

Thanks to the generosity of the Univ’s Old Members’ Trust, I undertook research in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and New York in the spring. My research engaged with the evolution of liberal politics and policy making, on areas including governance, education, and labor in the 1990s. I visited five archives and conducted a number of interviews with policy makers. My first stop was Los Angeles, where I worked in the University of Southern California Special Collections on the Papers of California Governor Jerry Brown. I also went to the Huntington Library in Pasadena, which had papers covering state level politics.

Next, I went to San Francisco, where I spent time in the Hoover Archive and the Stanford University Special Collections, both of which had papers bequeathed by California politicians. Following this, I went to Washington, DC where I ensconced myself in the National Archives, and its collections of Senate and Congressional committee papers.

Each of the archives, had boxes of papers from political actors and institutions, which were measured not in numbers but in rows and feet. I had conducted some online archival research before my trip in order to track debates on policy making and legislation but much primary source material is still available only in physical paper form. It was invaluable to be able to spend time among primary source materials, embedded in the papers of officials who were deeply involved in policy specifics. Working through the boxes, sifting through papers, correspondence, meeting notes, and scribbled notes, helped piece together policy decisions and motivations. It allowed me to access the behind-the-scenes debates of the policy and political sphere. In all four cities, I also met with political actors, policy makers as well as opinion formers in think tanks and at universities, to gain a deeper understanding of the policy and political processes of the period. Conducting in person interviews with them, while also going through archival records, enabled me to develop a more holistic picture and to more fully trace the trajectory of policy ideas and debates. The scene of policy action moves back and forth between state and federal levels and thus being able to spend time with officials and with their papers in both state and national archives was incredibly useful. The wealth of material I have collected is instrumental in shaping the contours of my research on the transformation of liberal politics and policies.

I am immensely grateful to the Univ’s Old Members’ Trust for their support and for making this research trip possible.

Find out more about the range of travel grants and scholarships available to assist Univ students on our Travel Grants page or read further travel reports.

Published: 26 August 2022

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