Jennifer Klein named Bradford Durfee Professor of History

Jennifer Klein’s research spans the fields of U.S. labor history, urban history, social movements, and political economy,
Jennifer Klein.
Jennifer Klein

Jennifer Klein, whose groundbreaking work in history is focused on U.S. labor, care, social policy, and economic security, has been appointed the Bradford Durfee Professor of History, effective immediately.

She is a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) in the Department of History and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.

Klein’s research spans the fields of U.S. labor history, urban history, social movements, and political economy, and has enabled new understandings of how social policies and the structural relations between business, labor, and the state impact the terms of work and economic security for people in the United States.

Her first book, “For All These Rights: Business, Labor, and the Shaping of America’s Public-Private Welfare State” (Princeton University Press, 2003), explores the meaning and politics of economic security emerging from the New Deal. Through a narrative that connects the commercial life insurance industry, the politics of Social Security, organized labor’s attempts to promote security, and the evolution of modern health insurance and pensions, it reveals how a firm-centered system of private social provision developed in the U.S. from the 1910s through 1950s. It uncovers the precise ways in which particular forms of private health insurance and pensions won out in the post-war period over several other, more universalist or community-based alternatives that had begun to take shape in the 1930s and 1940s. Klein was awarded the Ellis W. Hawley Prize in Political History/Political Economy from the Organization of American Historians and The Hagley Prize in Business History from the Business History Conference for this pathbreaking work.

Her next book, “Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State” (Oxford University Press, 2012), co-authored with Eileen Boris, pursued a new thread in the U.S. labor history: it is the first history of labor organizing among home care workers, one of the fastest growing occupations in the nation. Expansive in scope, the book develops a history of care work and long-term care policy in the United States from the 1930s to the present, reflecting on the politics of race and class, disability rights,  and revealing how law and social policy made home care a low-wage job that was stigmatized as welfare, relegated to the bottom of the medical hierarchy, and excluded from labor protections. This important work was awarded the Sara A. Whaley Book Prize from the National Women’s Studies Association.

In her current project, “Wastelands: The Economic Geography of Waste, Coercion, and Marginalization in Southeastern Louisiana, 1790-1990s,” Klein broadens her scope into environmental, carceral, and business history. Focusing on the petrochemical region of southeastern Louisiana, she identifies a cluster of prisons and confinement hospitals, established on former sugar plantations, that reworked and extended forms of unfree labor, dispossession, and loss of liberty. This landscape of incarceration both pre-dated the chemical industry and eventually overlapped with it geographically and functionally. With the development of the chemical and oil industry after World War II, the area additionally became marked by extensive harzardous waste. It’s therefore a long duree history of marginalization, confinement, labor, and the historical role of waste and pollution in the history of American capitalism.

Klein’s influential articles on the history of health care policy, Social Security, pensions, and collective bargaining have been published in the Journal of Policy History, International Labor and Working-Class History, Buffalo Law Review, Politics and Society, and other journals, and she has written numerous opinion pieces and essays for publications such as the New York Times, Time Magazine, The Nation, the Washington Post, Dissent, and others. She is frequently consulted by the media for her expertise on the connections between labor, justice, health, and related topics.

In 2014, in recognition of her body of work, Klein was awarded the prestigious Hans Sigrist Prize by the Hans Sigrist Foundation at the University of Bern in Switzerland. In addition, she has held fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and was a Yale Public Voices Fellow. Klein has given invited lectures at the University of Basel, the University of Paris-Diderot, Sciences Po-Lyon, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Barnard College, the University of California-Berkeley, Columbia, and other institutions.

Klein is active in shaping the field of labor history on a national level. She is an editorial board member of the journals International Labor and Working-Class History and Studies in American Political Development, has served as an evaluator for the NEH, and is active in the Organization of American Historians and the Labor and Working-Class History Association.

At Yale, Klein, an FAS senator for four years, served as deputy chair of the FAS Faculty Senate from 2019 to 2020, director of the History of Science and Medicine Senior Essay Program, and previously directed the Department of History’s Senior Essay Program. She has served on numerous search committees and on the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Council, in addition to other roles. Her Yale courses include core graduate seminars in the History Department, and seminars on political economy, social and political history, urban history, women and grass-roots politics, and labor and migration for undergraduate and graduate students.

She earned a bachelor of arts degree from Barnard College and her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia.

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