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Democracy in America: The Public and the Private in U.S. Politics


Admission requirements

Bachelor’s degree.
This course is part of the MA North American Studies, but students from other MA programs are welcome too if there are places available.


This course focuses on one of the key issues in the scholarly debates about politics: the relationship between the private and the public. Analyzing the complex interaction between the personal and the political, the course examines the role of emotions in politics and the identity of democratic politicians; it explores to what extent the personalities of politicians should be taken into account in the evaluations of their performance and the public domain of politics should intrude upon the private domain of the home and the family, and how individuals are turned into citizens. Aiming to exhibit the often artificial nature of strict distinctions between the private and public domains, the course emphasizes that the personal and political are intertwined without completely getting rid of the differences between the two realms. The reading for this course consists of landmark books in the debate about the public sphere, ranging from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s nineteenth-century anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition to philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s Political Emotions and political fiction such as Henry Adams’s Democracy and Robert Penn Warren All the President’s Men.

Course objectives

Students will gain knowledge and understanding regarding:

  • the political history of the United States;

  • debates regarding key themes in American political history involving the relationship between the private and the public;

  • specific American intellectuals and writers contributing to these debates.

This course aims to:

  • stimulate students to think critically about major political issues and link them to contemporary developments in American society, culture, and politics;

  • develop students’ skills to conduct independent research and to formulate clear research questions, and situate their own research in an academic debate;

  • to develop students’ ability to apply knowledge of North American history and culture to current issues and developments, nationally and internationally;

  • develop students’ oral communication skills in academic English through in-class discussion and a group presentation;

  • develop students’ ability to cooperate with other students in preparing an in-class group presentation;

  • develop students’ analytical, critical, and academic English writing skills by writing critical reviews, and a research essay;

  • develop students’ ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of other students and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • presentation + participation in class discussion (30%);

  • 2 book reviews (1000 words; 20%);

  • Final essay (4000 words; 50%).

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.

If the final grade is insufficient, only the final essay can be rewritten.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)
Henry Adams, Democracy (1880)
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Women and Economics (1898)
Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (1922)
John Dewey, The Public and its Problems (1927)
Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men (1946)
Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (1958)
Eva Illouz, Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism (2007)
Martha Nussbaum, Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice (2013)
Michael Eric Dyson, The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America (2016)


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. E.F. v.d Bilt