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The American Political System


Admission requirements

History students should have successfully completed their propaedeutic exam and both second-year BA-seminars, one of which in Algemene Geschiedenis.


This course aims to familiarize students with the intricacies of the American political system. The course focuses not only on the United States consititution and the debate about its interpretation, but also on the discussion about democratic legitimacy. The roles of political represenrtation and government bureaucracies and the concepts of “representation,” “the people” and “public opinion” will be at the heart of this discussion about legitimacy.
In this course students will read primary-source materials (the text of the American constitutions and of Supreme Court decisions for instance) as well as secondary sources (scholarship about aspects of the American political system). The paper that students will have to write will be based on primary source materials.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student can:

  • 1) devise and conduct research of limited scope, including:
    a. identifying relevant literature and select and order them according to a defined principle;
    b. organising and using relatively large amounts of information;
    c. an analysis of a scholarly debate;
    d. placing the research within the context of a scholarly debate.

  • 2) write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the Syllabus Themacolleges, including;
    a. using a realistic schedule of work;
    b. formulating a research question and subquestions;
    c. formulating a well-argued conclusion;
    d. giving and receiving feedback;
    e. responding to instructions of the lecturer.

  • 3) reflect on the primary sources on which the literature is based;

  • 4) select and use primary sources for their own research;

  • 5) analyse sources, place and interpret them in a historical context;

  • 6) participate in class discussions.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  • 7) The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically; in the specialisation General History, of the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions; in the track American History, of American exceptionalism; the US as a multicultural society and the consequences of that for historiography; the intellectual interaction between the US and Europe.

  • 8) Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically: in the specialisation General History, of the study of primary sources and the context specificity of nationally defined histories; in the track American History, of exceptionalism; analysis of historiografical and intellectual debates;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

The student:

  • 9) Knowledge of the American constitution and its interpretation.

  • 10) Knowledge of key concepts and institutions of the American political tradition.

  • 11) Knowledge of the debate about democratic legitimacy.


The timetable is available on the BA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance). This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course load

Total course load: 10 EC x 28 hrs = 280 hours

  • Seminar sessions: 14 × 2 = 28 hours

  • Required reading: 130 hours

  • Paper proposal: 2 hours

  • Paper: 85 hours

  • Presentation: 5 hours

  • Take-home assignment: 30 hour

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 7200 words, based on problem-oriented research using primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 2-5, 9-11

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-5

  • Participation
    measured learning objectives: 6

  • Assignment 1 take-home assignment
    measured learning objectives: 7-10

  • Assignment 2 paper proposal
    measured learning objectives: 1-2

  • Assignment 3 final paper
    measured learning objectives: 1-5; 7-11


Written paper: 50%
Oral presentation: 15%
Particiation: 15%
Assignment 1: 15 %
Assignment 2: 5%
Assignment 3: %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline

Exam Review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Posting of materials such as powerpoints.and text of the United States constitution;

  • Posting of questions about the books;

  • Discussion groups.

Reading list

  • Erwin Chemerinsky, The Case against the Supreme Court (2014)

  • Michael Eric Dyson, The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America (2016)

  • Geoffrey Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party (2013)

  • Edmund Morgan, Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (1989)

  • Pierre Rosanvallon, Democratic Legitimacy: Impartiality, Reflexivity, Proximity (2011)

  • William Riordan, Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics (1995)


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. E.F. van de Bilt