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In a circular more than linear way the students hone in on their ideas. They find that a lot of the American experience can be mapped to Franklin’s autobiography. The roots of the American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” narrative stems from Franklin’s life story. And even the act of writing an autobiography threads itself back to the American experience, because, as Abbas points out to the class: “What is more American than writing your own story?”

The objective is to engage with the ideas of key figures who have helped to shape the history of American thought—or as Abbas puts it: to conduct a genealogy of America. In other words, it’s not really the kind of class that deals with the science of politics, as much as the philosophy of politics.american-idol-pullquote To accomplish this she has students engage not only with autobiographies, textbooks and essays, but political treatises, journalism, speeches, essays, fiction, poems, Supreme Court decisions, music, plays, television shows and films. In studying these pieces the class examines what is “American” about American political thought. They are materials that highlight ways to ask “What makes democracy American and America democratic,” Abbas explains. “What are the peculiar ways in which we yield to the concept we call America and the American Dream?”

Where an American Government and Politics course might study the mechanics of government, politics, law—this class is collectively wrestling with a history of ideas, something Abbas thinks is important at a small college. “It is my responsibility to equip students to deal with an array of issues of political life rather than train them in narrow disciplinary content that they should be able to handle with the tools that I share with them.” She adds, “The reverse is almost never possible.”

View a slide show of Political Science 226

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