Thomas J. Leeper

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Issues in American Politics and Government Seminar

The United States is a unique political system. It is one of the longest-running democracies in the world, has a relatively rare presidential system, is populated by a broad mix of racial, ethnic, religious, economic, and cultural groups, and takes an aggressive, frequently independent, role in other countries’ affairs. This seminar dives into several important aspects of American democracy and politics to understand what shapes political activity in the United States. Students will leave the course with a deep understanding of the institutional, historical, philosophical, and cultural factors that shape American politics and will be able to better analyze policymaking and political events in the United States as a result. Broadly the course asks students to consider why things are the way they are in the United States and why things happen the way they do. In addressing these questions, the emphasis is placed on answering the questions “who has power in the United States?’ and `what do they do with it?”

This seminar is being taught as a master seminar at Aarhus University during Fall term 2014. We meet Thursdays 8:00-11:00 in Building 1325 room 136.

Course Objectives and Syllabus

The objectives for the course are as follows:

  • Identify and explain dominant themes that shape (and have shaped) the dynamics of American politics from the founding to the present
  • Describe political polarization in the contemporary United States, as well as its origins and political effects
  • Describe political and economic inequalities in the United States and their consequences for political activity and policymaking
  • Explain institutional roles and functions of branches of the federal government, states, citizens, media, parties, and other political actors
  • Discuss the roles and power of citizens in American government and policymaking
  • Apply knowledge of United States political history and political science theories to understand contemporary political events
  • Evaluate activities of American political institutions and citizens, including their de jure powers and de facto operations

You can find a schedule for the course, details of the exam structure, and assigned readings in the Syllabus.

Slides, Notes, and In-class Activities

Assignments and Exam

Students will be evaluated via an oral examination with a written synopsis. Students will have an opportunity to share and receive peer feedback on their synopsis before the end of the course. Details about the exam can be found here.


In preparation for the exam, students are expected to participate in weekly group or individual presentations. These presentations will cover the week’s reading material and involve leading a discussion on that material. Students should participate in 2–4 presentations over the course of the semester.

Why GitHub?

Read more about why this course is on GitHub here.