Blog: Amplify

HistPhil: A Serious Effort To Bring Our Past To Today

This week, Stan Katz, Benjamin Soskis and Maribel Morey released HistPhil, a new blog that focuses on both “the studying of history and the making of history”. The blog is a result of the co-founders insight that philanthropy as a whole has much to gain from studying its past. The founders hope that the blog will lead to new understanding of how current philanthropic issues can be resolved by studying the past. The organizers hope to bring together both scholars and changemakers in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors.


The co-founders of the project are well-positioned to provide thoughtful analysis on the relevance of philanthropy’s history:

Benjamin Soskis – A Fellow at the Center for Nonprofit Management, Philanthropy and Policy at George Mason University— is well known for his commentary in places like the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Washington Post. Furthermore, he consults for the history of philanthropy program of the Open Philanthropy Project. His dissertation, "The Problem of Charity in Industrial America, 1983-1915", received Columbia University’s Bancroft Prize, which is considered to be one of the most prestigious awards in the field of American History. He is also the co-author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic: A Biography of the Song that Marches On, a cultural biography that covers key moments and movements in U.S. history from the end of the Civil War to the present.

Maribel Morey— An Assistant Professor of History at Clemson University—was a contributor to The Atlantic’s series on philanthropy in America, an in-depth series that examined the role that philanthropy played throughout American history. She also is currently studying trans-national philanthropy and the interplay between U.S. philanthropy and public policymaking on minorities. Additionally, Morey has had several articles published in several notable journals concerning the role of the U.S. in philanthropy. [Full Disclosure: Maribel was in my graduate school history cohort at Princeton University, and she and I have remained friends, who like to discuss history.]

Stan Katz Currently, a faculty member at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, Katz is one of the country’s most serious and well-known legal scholars. For over 40 years, he has been at the forefront of American scholarship. In 2010 he was unsurprisingly awarded the National Humanities Medal. There isn’t space here to discuss his accomplishments, but suffice it to say, Katz’s attachment to this project signifies its seriousness.


Though less than a week after the blog’s first post, HistPhil has already received recognition from the National History Center. I’m sure that over time many more in the field will see value in a platform that provides historic context to the work we are doing. Personally, I see real value in a blog that will translate the latest academic scholarship for today’s practitioners.

The blog’s introductory post not only outlines in detail the motivation behind the blog, but also offers four detailed goals that the founders wish to achieve:

  • Highlighting new (and even old) work on the history of philanthropy both by academics and non-academic
  • Using the past to address contemporary issues in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors
  • Building bridges between the practitioner and scholarly communities
  • Building the field [history of philanthropy]

(Taken from

With a new focus on blending both the academic and practical sides of philanthropy, HistPhil may prove to be a useful forum for leaders in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector to provide greater impact through collaboration and cohesiveness. Regardless, the blog will offer illuminating insight into the history of the philanthropic sector that can be used to shape the current environment.

Philanthropy has played such an important role in our country’s history – from the well-known achievements in addressing polio and advancing civil rights to lesser known but significant social innovations like the Cleveland Foundation’s early drug treatment and HIV alleviation efforts. Our country’s story is filled with examples of philanthropy’s successes (and occasional failures), and if HistPhil can bring more of that context to life, it will be providing a significant service to the field.

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