News and analysis
June 19, 2015

New Blog Examines Today’s Philanthropy by Comparing It With the Past

To get a better understanding of philanthropy’s current challenges, try looking in the rearview mirror, say a trio of scholars who this week started a blog about philanthropy’s past.

HistPhil seeks to correct what its founders call philanthropy’s "ambivalent relationship with its own history."

The site was founded by three historians: Stanley Katz, director of the Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Maribel Morey, a history professor at Clemson University, and Benjamin Soskis, a Chronicle contributor and a fellow at George Mason University’s Center for Nonprofit Management, Philanthropy, and Policy.

From American philanthropy’s early days, dominated by the Carnegies and Rockefellers, to today, with the rise in popularity of strategic philanthropy, favored by social entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders have stressed the need to act, rather than reflect, on past successes and failures of institutional giving, wrote Ms. Morey and Mr. Soskis in an introduction to the site.

"Through the ages, from philanthropy’s origins to its current moment, its bold, millennial ambitions demanded a forward-looking orientation, with only a passing and most often disapproving look backwards," they wrote.

A main focus of the blog, says Mr. Soskis, is to use historical examples to shed light on the impact of present-day foundations. The blog’s first posts include announcements of newly published works and historical-society meetings and an essay by Mr. Katz that attempts to place the Bill, Hillary, & Chelsea Clinton Foundation into historical perspective.

Mr. Soskis is also a consultant for the Open Philanthropy Project, which is financed jointly by Good Ventures and Give Well, both of which have supported his work on the blog.

Send an email to Alex Daniels.

Send an e-mail to Alex Daniels.