Scandals. Wars and assassinations. Contested elections, Supreme Court decisions, and constitutional amendments. As large as they loom in our daily experience and our historical memory, these sorts of events–concrete, discrete things that happen in and around the political world–are often underestimated as catalysts of political change. Indeed, in the study of American political development, we often look to complex processes and underlying causes as explanations for how and why ideas, institutions, and policies both emerge and evolve. Yet for all our focus on long-term and subtle causal mechanisms, events often serve as political turning points in ways that vary over time, last for extended periods of time, and are not always entirely predictable at the time. Beginning from the presumption that change often has proximate as well as latent causes, this tutorial focuses on events as critical junctures in American politics. Our concern with these events is not with why they happened as or when they did but, rather, with how they altered the American political order once they did–with how they caused shifts in political alignments, created demands for political action, or resulted in a reordering of political values. Over the course of the semester, we will look at ten different types of events, ranging from those that seem bigger than government and politics (economic collapse) to those that are the daily grist of government and politics (speeches), in each instance juxtaposing two different occurrences of a particular category of event. In so doing, we will seek to use controversial and consequential moments in American politics as a window into deeper questions about political change and the narratives we tell about it.
The Class: Type: tutorial
Requirements/Evaluation: five 5-to 7-page essays, five 2- to 3-page critiques, and a final 4-page reflection
Extra Info: may not be taken on a pass/fail basis; not available for the fifth course option
Enrollment Preference: first-years and sophomores considering a major in Political Science
Distributions: Division II; Writing-Intensive;
Distribution Notes: WI: Five required essays, five required critiques, and a final reflection. Lots of writing and attention to writing throughout.
Attributes: PSCI American Politics Courses;