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HSTAA 213 A: History of the American Presidency

Meeting Time: 
TTh 3:30pm - 5:20pm
SMI 102
Margaret O'Mara, Howard & Frances Keller Professor of History, University of Washington
Margaret O'Mara

Syllabus Description:

University of Washington-Autumn 2018
TTh 3:30-5:20, Smith 102

Prof. Margaret O'Mara
Department of History
Office hours: TTh 1:30-2:30
Office location: 204B Smith Hall

Sign up for office hours here.

This course examines the American presidency and the men who have occupied it, from George Washington to Donald Trump. Successful completion of the course will fulfill the I&S requirement and it also may be taken as an optional W credit for students who complete additional writing assignments.


  • A refined understanding of how the office of the American presidency has changed over time in relation to broader economic, political, demographic, and geopolitical transformations;
  • Understanding the causes and contingencies shaping the American political institutions over time, as the United States evolved from an agrarian nation to an industrial and post-industrial superpower;
  • Sharpened critical thinking and writing about history, including ability to distinguish different types of sources (primary, secondary) and analyze their context and meaning; and
  • An ability to apply this historical awareness to understanding present-day political, economic, and social structures.

Note that this is an in-person lecture/discussion class with the exception of Tuesday, November 20 (the Tuesday before Thanksgiving). To accommodate holiday travel schedules, lecture that day will be online, accompanied by short films and written assignments.

REQUIRED READING (at the UW Bookstore as well as on reserve at Odegaard)

Joanne Freeman, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic

Heather Cox Richardson, To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party

Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right

Margaret O’Mara, Pivotal Tuesdays

Ann Kornblut, Notes from the Cracked Ceiling

We also will read book chapters, articles, and primary sources, available in PDF on Canvas and as in-class handouts.  Expect to read 100-125 pages per week.


The class consists of two 110-minute lectures per week.  Lecture periods will consist of 70-80 minutes of lecture time and 30-40 minutes of reading, writing, discussion, and group work.  Ungraded writing assignments will make a frequent appearance, and completion of these in-class assignments will count toward your participation grade.

1. Thoughtful, historically informed, and courteous participation, including active engagement in discussion (small group and all class) and completion of in-class writing assignments (10%).  A grading rubric for this component of class work can be found at the end of this syllabus.

2. Writing and posting five reader’s reflections over the course of the quarter (5% per post, for a total of 25%). This is more than merely a reading summary, but should be a substantive, thought-provoking comment that considers and cites examples from the reading to make your point. You may also use your post to home in on other issues in the reading that you find particularly interesting and provocative. It should be at least 300 words in length.

3. Writing one 5-7 page paper contextualizing one president within the major debates and transformations of his times (20% of grade).  You may choose one of two possible due dates: either Thursday, October 25 or Tuesday, December 4. [Students desiring a W credit should write these as 10-12 page papers that must be revised in response to instructor comments and turned in at the time of the final exam.]

4. A midterm exam (essays, short answer, multiple choice questions) covering the first six weeks of the quarter's lecture material and readings, to be completed online in lieu of class on Thursday, November 15 (20% of grade).

5. A final exam (essays, short answer, multiple choice questions) covering the full quarter of content, but with an emphasis on the second half, to be completed online in lieu of an in-person final exam on Thursday, December 13 (25% of grade).

WEEK ONE - Sept 27
George Washington and the Invention of the Presidency

WEEK TWO - Oct 2 and 4
John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and the Escalation of Partisanship; Andrew Jackson and the Populist Presidency

WEEK THREE – Oct 9 and 11
The Disunion of the 1850s; Abraham Lincoln and the Unlikely Presidency

WEEK FOUR - Oct 16 and 18
The Reconstruction Era Presidency; The Gilded Age Presidency

WEEK FIVE - Oct 23 and 25
William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Art of Modern Campaigning

WEEK SIX - Oct 30 and Nov 1
The New Deal Presidency; America at War

WEEK SEVEN - Nov 6 and 8
The Cold War Presidency: Truman, Eisenhower, and the World

WEEK EIGHT - Nov 13 and 15
The Television President


Richard Nixon and the Imperial Presidency

WEEK TEN - Nov 27 and 29
The Conservative Resurgence; Triumphs and Scandals 

WEEK ELEVEN - Dec 4 and 6
New World Order; Hope and Change


For class policies and grading standards, please see the full course syllabus. HSTAA 213 The American Presidency Syllabus Aut 2018.pdf

Catalog Description: 
Examines the American presidency and those who have occupied it, from George Washington to the current president.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 9:16pm