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The American Political System


Admission requirements

Students should have successfully completed both second-year seminars, one of which is part of the same specialisation as the present third-year seminar.


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.

Learning objectives

The student can:

    1. divise 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.
    1. write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the 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.
    1. reflect on the primary sources on which the literature is based.
    1. select and use primary sources for their own research.
    1. analyse sources, place and interpret them in a historical context.
    1. participate in class discussions.

The student has:

    1. knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically of American exceptionalism; the US as a multicultural society and the consequences ofthat for historiography; the intellectual interaction between the US and Europe.
    1. knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically of the study of primary sources and the context specificity of nationally defined histories; exceptionalism; analysis of historiografical and intellectual debates.
    1. knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and methodology of the historical discipline.
    1. knowledge of the American constitution and its interpretation.
    1. knowledge of key concepts and institutions of the American political tradition.
    1. knowledge of the debate about democratic legitimacy.


See course-schedule

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Seminar sessions 14 × 2 = 28 hours
Required reading 130 hours
Paper proposal 2 hours
Paper 85 hours
Presentation 5 hours
Take-home assignment 30 hours


  • Essay (7200 words, including notes and bibliography, based on primary sources)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-5, 10-12

  • Oral presentation an participation
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 6, 7-12

  • Assignment 1 (take-home assignment)
    Measured learning objectives: 7-9

  • Assignment 2 (paper proposal)
    Measured learning objectives: 1a-b

Essay: 50%
Oral presentation and participation: 30%
Assignment 1 (take-home assignment): 15 %
Assignment 2 (paper proposal): 5%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average combined with the additional requirement that the essay has to be sufficient.

Essays and presentations can only be repeated in exceptional cases. The deadline for re-examination of the final paper will be published on the website of the Institute for History. See deadline.


During the course Blackboard will be used for:

  • Powerpoints

  • Questions about the books and the discussions

  • Discussion groups

Reading list

Required reading for all students (available at van Stockum bookstore, and

  • Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (1922)

  • Arthur Schlesinger, The Imperial Presidency (1973)

  • Akhil Reed Amar, The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction (1998)

  • Larry Kramer, The People Themselves: Popular Constitutionalism and Judicial Review (2004)

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

  • Theda Skocpol en Vanessa Williamson, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (2012)


Via uSis


Dr. E.F. van de Bilt