African American Politics (POLS 346)

African Americans have played an integral role in the development of American society since the colonial era, even when they were excluded from participating in politics because of slavery and de jure discrimination.  Despite these obstacles, African Americans have made distinct contributions to the larger polity.  Understanding the political experiences of African Americans plays an critical role in understanding American politics broadly.

In this course, students examine the politics of the African American community, particularly in the post-civil rights era.  Our goal will be to compare and contrast the politics of this community with American politics generally, and to identify the ways that African American politics shed unique light on challenges that face the American system.  Course requirements include response papers, one long paper, a midterm and a final examination.


New Black Political Leadership

The first decade of the 21st Century witnessed the emergence of a new generation of African American elected leadership.  This generation differed from its predecessors because of its embrace of deracialized political strategies and its success in winning high level political offices, including the U.S. presidency.  The emergence of politicians like Barack Obama raises interesting questions for the future study of African American politics.  What is so different about the new generation of African American politicians relative to their predecessors?  Are the differences between old and new generations of black leadership stylistic or substantive?  Are the new leaders better poised to deliver racial reconciliation and an end to systemic inequality?

In this course, students will examine contemporary African American politics to determine whether and how the new generation of African American leaders can promote an African American agenda in a post-civil rights, multicultural environment. In addition to regular response papers, and two in-class examinations, students will apply their knowledge to an in-depth research project in which students conduct a case study analysis of one young African American leader to probe the relationship between the leadership styles of individual African American politicians or political groups and the substantive representation that these leaders provide on important policy issues.


Political Participation (POLS 385)

Political engagement is key to the success of any democracy.  As such, understanding the factors that contribute to citizens’ propensity to vote, volunteer for campaigns, contact their elected officials etc., can be a useful diagnostic to assessing the robustness of American political life.

In this course, students learn the classic and contemporary theories of political participation.  What factors predict a person’s likelihood to participate in both low– and high-cost political activities? Can third parties decrease or increase another person’s likelihood of participation?  Do personal characteristics such as gender or race have any relationship to a person’s likelihood of participation?  What about structural factors such as voter registration laws?

Course requirements include weekly response papers, a  long paper, and two examinations.


Experimental Methods in Political Science/How To Do Experiments In Political Science (POLS 490/585)

Experiments are the ideal way for scientists of all stripes to establish the existence of causal relationships.  Experimental methods fell out of favor among political scientists for nearly two generations.  In the past decade, though, scholars have taken a renewed interest in the methodology and have generated valuable research findings on a wide range of projects which span the political science subfields.

In this course, students study classic political science experiments to learn the basic principles of various experimental methodologies (field, lab, survey-embedded and natural).  To reinforce classroom learning, students develop their own projects in which they conduct their own experiments to answer relevant political science research questions.


Race and the 2008 Election (POLS 190)

The 2008 presidential election was historic even before the party conventions.  When this election season began, the field of serious presidential contenders included a African American, a Latino, a woman, and a Mormon.  Never before had the field been so diverse.  By the time it was over, both major parties made history.  An African American topped the successful Democratic ticket, and a woman was the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

In this course, students probed the implications of presidential candidate diversity on American politics.  They asked the following questions: do candidates from minority groups run their campaigns differently from majority candidates?  Do minority or female voters respond differently to candidates from the same ascriptive groups?  How does the inclusion of racial and ethnic minorities at the top of electoral tickets affect the status of minority group politics in the United States?  Do politicians of color advance the cause of their racial or ethnic groups?

Students explored these questions in real time during the Fall 2008 presidential campaign.  As part of their class requirements, students created a class blog and maintained individual blogs covering specific aspects of the campaign.