PS 904 Classics in American Politics

The purpose of this seminar is to introduce the core questions, concepts, and theories of the field through the “classic” works. We developed this seminar in response to graduate students who believed that too many graduate courses in American politics had lost sight of the forest by examining the trees in too much detail (or in some cases, by putting parts of each branch and leaf under a microscope). Advanced seminars typically focus on cutting edge research that often assumes the reader is familiar with the foundational theoretical debates and underlying issues. However, most graduate students do not have time to go back and read the original works that motivate contemporary research. This seminar will provide that opportunity. A related issue concerns the methodology employed in classic and current research. Many first-year students (and other advanced students who have not had statistics) have difficulty plowing through the technical work that is assigned in many American politics seminars. The onslaught of numbers, equations, and formal models in the APSR or AJPS can be impenetrable. The classic works assigned here rarely employ any math more sophisticated than descriptive statistics or simple regression. While it is vital to master the more technical approaches, a prior requirement is to understand the important theories and issues in the field.
What defines a “classic?” In my view, it depends on whether a work identified an enduring insight, changed the direction of a subfield, asked a vital question nobody had thought to ask previously, and served as a foundation for subsequent developments and insights with an influence that may have lasted for decades (or yet remains). There is also the “wow” factor, as in how one (or, in this case, I) reacted in a first encounter with these works.
Most of them are from the 1970s and earlier, although there are a few from the 1980s.
While the primary aim of the seminar is to introduce you to the central questions and concepts in the field, we will spend some time each week developing your research skills. We will examine the methods employed by the authors, discuss whether the methods were appropriate for answering the question at hand, how the methodological choices may have helped shape the research, and how more recent work that you are familiar with has extended (or undercut) the insights of these classic works.