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What Can History Contribute to Nonprofit Education?

Justin Davis Smith


The field of nonprofit studies and teaching has grown significantly over the past 40 years and is increasingly adopting a cross-disciplinary perspective. However, until recently, history has been largely absent from the curriculum. This paper attempts to redress the imbalance. While acknowledging that the past cannot provide a ready-made template for the future, it argues that history is essential for our understanding of the way in which the nonprofit sector has developed and can provide lessons for future courses of action, as well as helping to reconnect voluntary organisations to their founding values and missions. The paper draws on a range of examples from the history of the sector in the UK and the experience gathered by the author in teaching a history of philanthropy module to students on the charity master’s programme at the Business School (formerly Cass), City, University of London.

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history; voluntary organizations; non-profit sector; voluntary sector

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