nl en

The American Political System


Admission requirements

Students should have successfully completed their propaedeutic exam and both second-year BA-seminars.


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

  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.
  2. 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.
  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

  1. The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically of American exceptionalism; the US as a multicultural society and the consequences of that for historiography; the intellectual interaction between the US and Europe;

  2. 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; and in the track American History: exceptionalism; analysis of historiografical and intellectual debates;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar
The student has acquired:

  1. Knowledge of the American constitution and its interpretation;
  2. Knowledge of key concepts and institutions of the American political tradition;
  3. Knowledge of the debate about democratic legitimacy.


See Timetable History

Mode of instruction

  • 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: 1-5, 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

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

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.


Blackboard will be used for:

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

  • Posting of questions about the books and the discussions will be posted on blackboard; Discussion groups will be used.

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 via uSis is mandatory.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. E.F. van de Bilt