Patrick Andelic is a lecturer in American History in the Humanities Department at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, as well as a 2020 Kluge Fellow, slated to begin his residency at the John W. Kluge Center in May of 2021. He was also an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Fellow at the Kluge Center in 2011-2012. Patrick is the author of Donkey Work: Congressional Democrats in Conservative America, 1974-1994 (University of Kansas Press, 2019).
I interviewed Dr. Andelic on his previous time at the Kluge Center, his upcoming residency, and advice he has for scholars pursuing a fellowship here at the Center.
Michael Stratmoen (MS): Can you tell me a bit about your project looking at former Rep. Henry Waxman?
Patrick Andelic (PA): My current project is a creative take on a political biography, following the career of California Congressman Henry Waxman from 1975 to 2015. It uses Waxman as a prism to understand the transformations of Congress, the Democratic Party, and liberalism from the 1970s to the present day.
Few individual legislators had a greater impact on U.S. society in the last half-century than Waxman. Over his 40 year Congressional career, he was at the forefront of some of the most important policy battles of the era: healthcare, pollution and environmentalism, food and drug regulation, tobacco restriction, government accountability, LGBTQ+ rights, and AIDS policy. However, this project is a study of Waxman’s congressional office. By using a single congressional office as a case study, this project intends to bring a range of vital but often overlooked actors into the study of political history: congressional staffers, bureaucrats, think tanks, lobbyists, activists, lawyers, journalists, academics, and citizens groups.
At root, this project is animated by the most fundamental of political questions: ‘who governs?’ Waxman never represented a constituency of larger than a few hundred thousand voters, and never sought any state-wide or national office. Yet he had a tremendous impact on the lives of ordinary Americans.
A study of his political career has the potential to fundamentally alter our understanding of recent U.S. history, demonstrating how much consequential political action has taken place in the shadow of more dramatic events. From the records of the House Democratic Caucus to the papers of Waxman allies like Rep. Patsy T. Mink and Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, the collections at the Library of Congress are crucial to this project.
MS: This is not your first time here at the Kluge Center! We enjoy it when previous scholars return in a different program. You were here as part of our partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council from Great Britain back in 2011 and 2012. Can you tell us about your first stint here, and how your work has progressed from then to the current point?
PA: Yes, that’s right! I spent six months at the Kluge Center in 2011/12, so it will be almost ten years since I first arrived when I take up this fellowship. It’s still the longest continuous stint that I’ve spent in the US and it was easily my best experience as a postgraduate. I made a group of friends at the Kluge Center that I’m still close to, and, in fact, we’ve continued to have regular Zoom calls throughout the lockdown in the UK!
In many ways, my first Kluge Center fellowship is responsible for the fact that I became a historian of Congress. I arrived at the Kluge Center at an early stage in my doctoral studies, knowing that I wanted to study the Democratic Party and liberalism but still unsure of the precise angle. It was during that first fellowship that I became interested in making Congress the focal point of my research and in making the case for the importance of an institution that often plays second fiddle to the presidency in many political histories. That is an interest that’s only developed further since my first Kluge Fellowship, though I’m planning to move away from Congress in my next research project – before I get too much of a reputation!
MS: You recently published a monograph based off your research in 2011/2012, called Donkey Work: Congressional Democrats in Conservative America, 1974-1994. Can you go into detail about this work, and what you would hope those reading it will learn.
PA: This was my first book and was published with University Press of Kansas (//lccn.loc.gov/2018058810). It’s a study of the congressional Democratic Party from the post-Watergate successes of the 1974 elections to 1994, when the party lost both the House and Senate for the first time in decades.
This book was intended as a corrective to recent political historiography which has focused largely on explaining the rise of modern conservatism, and relegated liberal politics to a secondary role. Focusing on Congress, where the Democratic Party remained surprisingly robust in the midst of America’s ‘right turn,’ the book explores the various factions that competed to shape the party’s public philosophy. It argues that while Congress as an institution threw up many obstacles for those trying to re-conceptualize the party’s ideology, it also enabled Democrats to frustrate the efforts of conservatives to implement their agenda. This ensured that Democrats could preserve a surprising amount of the New Deal-Great Society legacy in an apparently conservative age.
MS: What lessons do you believe the current Democratic and Republican congressional delegations can learn from “Donkey Work?”
PA: The key thing they could learn is that, while Congress can be extraordinarily effective for the party that controls it (or even has a majority in either chamber), that party needs to understand the limits of the institution. My book argued that Congress – because of its essentially fragmented nature – is much more effective at helping parties frustrate the goals of their political rivals than reshaping their public philosophies. For that, parties would do better to rely on extra-congressional organizations, e.g. activist groups, think tanks, .
5: What advice would you give to scholars who are interested in pursuing a residential fellowship here at the Kluge Center, given that you have been accepted twice and have had a successful first stint with us?
First, I’d strongly encourage them to apply! It’s not an exaggeration to say that the first Kluge Center fellowship had a transformative impact on my research.
In terms of writing a successful application, I’d encourage them to familiarize themselves with the LOC’s extensive collections and make sure they can make a strong case that those collections are essential to their projects. I would also encourage them to apply for as long a fellowship as they think they can reasonably give themselves. This may be advice that is particularly aimed at non-U.S.-based scholars, but I know that one of the great joys of my Kluge fellowship was the opportunity to sit in the Manuscript Reading Rooms and just read the materials – as opposed to only having, say, a few days to photograph as much material as possible to be reviewed at home later. It’s an enormous privilege as a scholar to be able to do that, so take advantage of it, if you can.
6: Is there anything else that you would like to share with regard to your experience here, working with the Library’s collections, or being in DC in general?
One of the most rewarding parts of the Kluge Center fellowship was being part of the community of scholars working there. Research trips (and archival research itself) can often be lonely, so it was fantastic to be around other scholars working on a range of diverse and exciting topics. And to have people you could go to a bar with on Friday night!
It was also great that the Kluge Center was committed to sustaining that community, through both research activities and social events. And I would advise any visitor to take advantage of the opportunities to explore as much of D.C., Virginia, and Maryland as possible. I know I didn’t do as much of that as I could have, and I’m hoping to rectify that this time!