“You may not be interested in the state, but the state is interested in you,” noted the eminent American historian William Leuchtenburg in encouraging a revival of political history.
Indeed, political history provides a comprehensive window into society: it is fundamentally interested in the interaction of social, economic, cultural, demographic, technological, and ideological developments with institutional and structural forces. Politics is simply the intersection of “official” actors (such as policymakers, courts, or bureaucrats), “rank-and- file” actors (including consumers, laborers, grass-roots activists, and voters), and broad social forces (economics, culture, demographics, innovation, and so forth); Therefore, political history offers a uniquely holistic approach to historical inquiry.
This course explores American political history from Independence through the present day. It interrogates the roots of American political ideas, the dynamics of partisan competition, the interaction of class, ethnicity, race, and politics, the evolution of policy preferences, the growth of the state, and the transformation of rank-and- file expectations and ambitions, among other important themes. By exploring the writings of major figures (from Jefferson to Lincoln, Roosevelt to Reagan) as well as the preferences of anonymous voters—and everyone in between, this course will help students identify the overarching themes and the important forgotten moments in our nation’s political development. Students will end the semester armed with a mastery of this history, an understanding of the methods of political historians and scholars in related fields, and a contextualization of our contemporary political world.