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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Heather N Pool
POL S 405
Seattle Campus

Advanced Seminar in American Politics

Intensive reading and research in selected problems or fields of political analysis.

Class description

Area of Focus: Race and the Law in the United States.

The Declaration of Independence boldly declares that "all men are created equal," while the Constitution of the United States begins with "We the People..." But the inclusive aspirations of these founding American documents belie a history of racial oppression, segregation, and separation enabled by the legal system. These course seeks to trace the evolution of race in America through law and legal systems. We will pay close attention to a handful of seminal court cases that have defined race and shaped American legal and racial consciousness, including Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Brown v. Board. We will also consider legal constructions of contract in the institution of slavery, the evolution of Reconstruction in the American historical mind, and hopefully have time to consider the evolution of immigration law and its powerful influence on popular conceptions of belonging. We will ask, among others, the following questions: to what extent is our racial present the result of these racial pasts? What weight does the legal past have in the present? What is the relationship between law and politics? When do political actors "punt" to the courts and when do they seek to create policy? How has law created and shaped race and how has race created and shaped the domain of law? To what extent is race real and what role does the law play in that reality?

Student learning goals

Students will improve reading comprehension (as well as patience in general) by working through difficult texts.

Students will improve their critical analysis skills by writing analytical questions; rather than simply taking the material in, students will learn how to question the author's assumptions and extrapolate the implications of his/her ideas.

Students will develop public speaking skills by speaking out in class.

Students will develop academic and argumentative writing skills by preparing at least two formal papers.

At the end of this course, students will be able to trace the evolution of American ideas about race using evidence from legal documents and historical analysis to support their claims.

General method of instruction

This course will include some lecture (as necessary) but as much as possible will rely on discussion and/or small group work.

Students will be asked to submit analytic questions several times over the quarter (the number of times depends on enrollment). These questions will be graded and are the building blocks for the instructor's class outlines.

It is essential that students recognize that this is an advanced seminar where participation is crucial; this course will only be as interesting and engaging as you are.

Because of the nature of the texts we will be exploring, regular attendance will be necessary to do well in the course. The instructor will include a variety of participation credit exercises to encourage regular attendance.

The questions we will be discussing in this course are not comfortable ones. The course material requires that students be willing to examine honestly their opinions, beliefs, and prejudices. While it is easy to mock egregious American failures around race in the past, the more compelling question we will seek to consider is to what extent that political and legal past shapes our present.

Recommended preparation

There are no prerequisites for this course. However, previous courses in Law, Societies, and Justice or American Politics would be helpful.

Class assignments and grading

This is Writing credit course. As a result, students will be doing at least ten pages of graded writing. These will be split between an early review/synthesis paper and a later, scaffolded research paper with incremental deadlines.

Participation 20%; Questions 20%; First synthetic paper 20%; Final research paper 40%.

The instructor reserves the right to modify this evaluation scheme up to the first day of the course.


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 Heather N Pool
Date: 08/17/2012