Search | Directories | Reference Tools
UW Home > Discover UW > Student Guide > Course Catalog 

Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Richard R Johnson
HSTAA 351
Seattle Campus

American Constitutional History: From Colonial Times to the Present

European origins; the constitution-making of the American Revolution; the growth of government; Civil War and Reconstruction as constitutional crises; reform and the new federalism; the Supreme Court and civil rights; Congress, the presidency, and modern American constitutionalism.

Class description

This course will examine the development of American constitutional history from its European beginnings to the present day. It will center upon the processes of constitutionmaking and the role of the Supreme Court in shaping constitutional law and practice; but it will also consider the development of other branches of government, the role of law and its impact upon American society, and political reform movements at both the national and local levels. Throughout, the class will endeavor to show the extent to which a "constitutional frame of mind" has helped to shape American society, and—conversely—how changing conceptions of what government should be and do have altered the workings of the law. The format will be generally chronological but following key themes through time and centering upon illustrative cases and incidents. The lecture period will include time each week for class discussion of some of the assigned materials of the course.

Student learning goals

Students will understand the process of constitutionmaking, the importance of constitutional understanding and interpretation in shaping the boundaries of legitimacy in American history, and they will see how the structures of American government have developed according to undertandings of what governments at different levels should be and can do.

Students will understand the evolution of the tension between looking to the US constitution's "original intent" (however defined) and interpreting it as "a living document." They will come to understand that this is less a binary of conservative and liberal perspectives than a complex of multipolar interpretations.

Students will understand more about the role of the Supreme Court in forming constitutional practice, especially through study of particular important cases.

Students will learn the value of an historical approach to America's constitutional development

Students will acquire skills of assessing both primary and secondary materials, and how to write a convincing constitutional "brief"

General method of instruction

Two eighty-minutes lectures a week plus a a third period combining lecture and discussion

Recommended preparation

Some basic background knowledge of American history--both colonial and national--would be useful but not essential. More impoprtant is a willingness to engage

Class assignments and grading

One 3.5 to 4.5 page book analysis, two 2-page interpretative papers, midterm and final examination combining analysis of selected documentary extracts plus essay question. This is not a W-course

25% each for the book analysis and the midterm, 30% for the final, and 20% for the short papers and general class participation and performance. All assignments must be completed so as to receive credit for the class


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Richard R Johnson
Date: 11/08/2010