Miller Center

Miller Center National Fellowship

Beginning in the 2017-2018 academic year, the National Fellowship Program, a longstanding initiative of the Miller Center, will fall under the leadership of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation at U.Va.. The Jefferson Scholars Foundation, created in 1980, currently offers the premier graduate fellowship and undergraduate scholarship at the University. To learn more about the National Fellows Program, including how to apply, click here.

Meet The Fellows

Laura Blessing - Politics, University of Virginia

Project: The New Politics of Taxation: The Republican Party and Anti-Tax Positions

Blessing photo

Laura Blessing is a Senior Fellow at The Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University.

Blessing earned her PhD from the University of Virginia. While at UVa she taught courses on Congress, the Presidency, and Media and Politics for students at both UVa and Sweet Briar College.  After defending her dissertation she worked on Capitol Hill as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow.  She served as the legislative assistant for tax policy for Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee.  She is currently working on a book on the politics of tax policy from the mid-century to today. Blessings' areas of expertise include the politics of tax policy, legislative politics, the legislative process, the state of partisanship, Congressional operation and history, and Executive-Legislative relations.

Blessing's dissertation investigated the development of our current tax politics.  In the mid-1950s to mid-1970s a balanced budget consensus and low levels of politicization were apparent.  Since then, these have changed, with profound consequences.  This transformation has been caused, not by ideological or economic factors, but rather by a national Republican party-building strategy.  This is evident in a number of different measures, both qualitative and quantitative, from roll call votes and party platforms to the coordination strategies of national party leaders.  The party has used an explicitly anti-tax strategy to win elections and build a powerful coalition of many otherwise disparate groups. 


Derek S. Hoff - History, University of Virginia

Project: Are We Too Many?: The Political Economy of Population in the Twentieth-Century United States

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Derek S. Hoff is Associate Professor of History at the University of Utah.

Hoff's research interests include the role of natural monopoly theory in the rise of the regulation of the telephone industry in the 19th century, development of inheritance tax, and the history of income inequality across industrialized nations.

Hoff's dissertation discussed a history of the population debate in the modern United States. In particular, it focused on the subset of that debate that focuses on the interrelationship between demography and the economy. Most histories of "population" in America center on cultural and ethnic questions such as the early-century eugenics movement and the nation's recurrent anti-immigrationism. Hoff's study returned the economic-demographic debate to the center of not only the course of population thought and policy, but also the larger American political economy. 

Selected Recent Publications

The State and the Stork: The Population Debate and Policy Making in US History (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

The False Alarm over U.S. Fertility." New York Times, April 16, 2013.

Fighting Foreclosure: The Blaisdell Case, The Contract Clause, and the Great Depressionwith John Fliter (University Press of Kansas, 2012).

A Modest Proposal for a New Population Debate." Need to Know, PBS, July 2012.


Benjamin Holtzman - History, Brown University

Project: Crisis and Confidence: Reimagining New York City in the Late Twentieth Century

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Fellowship year: 2016

Mentor: Suleiman Osman, The George Washington University

Crisis and Confidence: Reimagining New York City in the Late Twentieth Century uses the sweeping transformation of post-1960s New York City to understand the broader remaking of the United States in the latter twentieth century. The project begins in the crisis-plagued New York City of the 1960s, the inauguration of more than a decade of widespread economic and political turmoil, and ends with the city’s proclaimed resurgence in the 2000s. During this period, diverse groups of city-dwellers, including grassroots organizations, non-profit foundations, elites, and elected officials worked to reshape New York as overlapping crises disrupted long-standing logics of urban governance and economics. In chronicling these varied initiatives, Crisis and Confidence reveals a defining characteristic of the period: as different sectors simultaneously embraced the sentiment that city government no longer worked, many turned toward market-based governing logics to sustain key areas of city life. These turns illustrate the powerful connection between local conditions and the broader shift toward a marketized political economy.


Ajay Mehrotra - History, University of Chicago

Project: Creating the Modern American Fiscal State: The Political Economy of U.S. Tax Policy, 1880–1930

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Fellowship year: 2002

Mentor: Elliot Brownlee, University of California, Santa Barbara

Ajay Mehrotra is director of the American Bar Foundation

Ajay K. Mehrotra is currently director of the American Bar Foundation.  He is a legal scholar whose research focuses on the history of American law and political economy, and the relationship between taxation and state formation in historical and comparative contexts.  

Prior to his ABF Directorship, Ajay Mehrotra was Professor of Law and Louis F. Niezer Faculty Fellow at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. From 2012-2015, he also served as the school's associate dean for research. He was also an adjunct Professor of History at Indiana University and an Affiliated Faculty member of the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis.  From 2007-2011, he was Co-director (with Michael Grossberg) of the Indiana University Center for Law, Society & Culture.  Mehrotra was previously a Doctoral Fellow at the American Bar Foundation while completing his Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago. He received his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and his B.A. in Economics from the University of Michigan. After law school and prior to his graduate training in history, Mehrotra was an associate in the Structured Finance Department in the New York offices of J.P. Morgan.

Mehrotra's writings have appeared in student-edited law reviews and interdisciplinary journals including Law & Social Inquiry, Law & History Review, and Law & Society Review.  His scholarship and teaching have been supported by grants and fellowships from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council.

Selected Recent Publications

Making the Modern American Fiscal State: Law, Politics, and the Rise of Progressive Taxation, 1877-1929 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

"Charles A. Beard and the Columbia School of Political Economy: Revisiting the Intellectual Roots of the Beardian Thesis." Articles by Maurer Faculty, Paper 1311 (2014)

From Seligman to Shoup: The Early Columbia School of Taxation and Development.” in W. Elliot Brownlee, Yasunori Fukagai & Eisaku Ide, eds., The Political Economy of Transnational Tax Reform: The Shoup Mission to Japan in Historical Context (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
From Programmatic Reform to Social Science Research: The National Tax Association and the Promise and Perils of Disciplinary Encounters.” with J. Thorndike, Law & Society Review 45, no. 3 (2011): 593-630.


Mary Christina Michelmore - History, University of Michigan

Project: With the First Penny Paid: Welfare Reform, Tax Policy and Political Change, 1960–1980

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Molly Michelmore is Associate Professor of History at Washington and Lee University.

Michelmore's research interests lie in 20th century American politics, and specifically in the relationship between fiscal policy, the politics of taxing and spending, and content of post-New Deal liberalism. She explored these concepts in her first book Tax and Spend: The Welfare State, Tax Politics and the Limits of American Liberalism.

Michelmore's dissertation placed the "Reagan Revolution" in historical context by studying the politics of welfare reform and tax policy between 1960 and 1980. Ronald Reagan's 1980 election represented the culmination of a decade-old re-evaluation of national political priorities, the result of which was a political settlement centrally concerned with the costs of the liberal state.

Her dissertation explores how and why "welfare" grew from a policy problem of interest to only a small group of experts into an issue of national political importance, and examines the era's larger political, economic and social changes. Examining social and fiscal policies considered or enacted between 1967 and 1980, Michelmore's dissertation analyzed the process by which taxes and welfare became two sides of the same coin and were politicized to an unprecedented extent in the 1970s. Specifically, she argued that both welfare and taxes became important weapons in the arsenal of the conservative attack on the state and its reification of the market, that the politics and policies of welfare reform played a significant role in the rise of conservatism and the repudiation of the postwar liberal paradigm.

Selected Recent Publications

"Why the income tax is worth celebrating." Washington Post Opinions, February 17, 2013.

Tax and Spend: The Welfare State, Tax Politics and the Limits of American Liberalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

"'What Have You Done for Me Lately?': The Welfare State, Tax Politics and the Search for a New Majority, 1968-1980." Journal of Policy History 24, no. 4 (October 2012): 709-740.

"Don't Just Blame the Republicans for the No-Tax Pledge -- Democrats are Allergic to Tax Hikes, Too." History News Network, July 9, 2012.


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