American politics for beginners
Time: 19:45 - 21:15
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HPC81
Duration: 5 sessions (over 5 weeks)
What is the course about?
In this introductory course, you will explore the historical roots and evolution of American democracy, as well as current trends in the country’s national politics. You will learn about the main ideas and events that led to the American War of Independence (American Revolutionary War, 1775-1783) and influenced the founding fathers in their drafting of the US Constitution. You will also learn about enduring beliefs that led the country in its Westward Expansion and to become a global power - such as the ‘Empire of Liberty’, Manifest Destiny, and American Exceptionalism - ideas that still resonate in the US today. You will gain a good understanding of how the three branches of the federal government (executive, legislative, and judiciary) function and interact; of the power dynamics between state vs federal government; of how the two major political parties (the Democratic and the Republican) have evolved; how the electoral system works; and the influence of pressure groups, public opinion, and lobbying. The course will also explore the enduring impact of slavery, racial segregation, and voter suppression in US politics. You will gain a good understanding of the intricate relationship between race, ideology, and shifts in party alignment and identification in the country. You will examine and discuss key issues and policies of contemporary US politics (Obama, Trump, and the first few months of the Biden administration) and critically assess the current crisis of American democracy.
This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
• A brief history of the birth of American democracy, the American Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783); the ideas of natural rights and freedoms (Paine, Montesquieu, Locke) that influenced key founding fathers and the drafting of the US constitution (1787);
• The American Constitution, its main principles (separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism) and major amendments;
• Thomas Jefferson and the ‘Empire of Liberty’;
• The Westward Expansion and the belief in Manifest Destiny;
• How the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judiciary) function and interact;
• Race, ideology and party identification in US politics (the enduring impact of slavery, segregation, and suppression of political rights);
• Party realignment and shifts in voting habits (the rise of the Democratic Party, the changes in the Republican Party (the Grand Old Party - GOP) and the ‘Solid South’;
• Recent trends in party identification according to race, gender, education, and geography;
• How the electoral system works (Congressional and Presidential Elections: constitutional requirements; the two-party system and other third parties; the primaries and caucuses, national party conventions, campaigns and funding, pressure groups and lobbying; the role of television debate and public opinion; the general election; the Electoral College);
• Contemporary US politics (Obama, racial politics and Obama Care; Trump and the return of American nationalism; Biden: a new political era?
• Polarisation and civil unrest. The crisis of American Democracy.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
• Understand key ideas, beliefs, and events that led to American Independence and territorial expansion;
• Identify and describe key figures in the birth of American democracy and their role in the drafting of the country's constitution;
• List and analyse the constitution’s main principles and amendments;
• Explain how the three branches of government work and interact;
• Critically assess the impact of slavery, segregation, and voter suppression in American politics and society;
• Explain historical shifts in political party realignment, voting habits, and party identification in the US;
• Understand how the electoral process works and explain the role and consequences of the Electoral College;
• Assess contemporary US politics and the recent crisis in the country’s democracy.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
No previous knowledge is required as this is an introductory course. That being said, a general interest in American history, past and contemporary US domestic and international politics will be helpful. There will be core readings provided to students before lessons so that everyone can get familiarised with the themes/issues to be explored and discussed in each session.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
A mixture of lectures/ short presentations by the tutor, Q&A, quizzes, pair/group work, and class discussions. A comprehensive bibliography will be given at the beginning of the course. Also, (brief) reading materials will be handed out at the end of each session. Participants will be expected to read short texts, and/or watch documentaries/short videos, and/or listen to short podcasts in American politics (past and current) before and after lessons. Please note, that as the course progresses, participants are encouraged to take a more active part in the course – this will be achieved through a mixture of smaller group work (such as short presentations and creative group activities such as poster design or quizzes) but also class discussions.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
Although you are not required to buy anything, you may wish to purchase some books, or subscribe to specialised magazines, or attend talks or webinars on the issue of US politics. That will deepen and broaden the subject knowledge gained in this introductory course. However, this is not a requirement for the course. A list of further readings will be provided to participants. The list will include suggestions of books to purchase, as well as of free resources such as newspapers, podcasts, online articles, and videos.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
HPC82: American Politics - The Two-Party System.