Course Syllabus

“We cannot have free government without elections.”

–Abraham Lincoln

Required Books (College Bookstore or Library Reserve)

  • Keyssar, Alexander. The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States. New York: Basic Books, 2000 / 2009.
  • O’Mara, Margaret. Pivotal Tuesdays: Four Elections That Shaped the Twentieth Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.

Articles & Websites

  • Edsall, Thomas B. “Is Trump Wrecking Both Parties?” New York Times, 11, 2016 [WEB]
  • Edwards, Laura and Sarah DeFeo. “1896.” Vassar College. [WEB]
  • “Finding Controversy: Hayes vs. Tilden.” Harpweek. [WEB]
  • Freeman, Joanne B. “The Presidential Election of 1800.” History Now, [WEB]
  • Greenberg, David. “Are Clinton and Trump the Biggest Liars Ever to Run for President?” Politico, July/Aug 2016 [WEB]
  • Harvey, China. Race for the White House: 1864. (Understanding Lincoln) [WEB]
  • Kurland, Philip B. and Ralph Lerner, eds. The Founders’ Constitution (Chicago) [WEB]
  • “Lincoln’s Writings: The Multi-Media Edition. House Divided Project. [WEB]
  • Onion, Rebecca. “Susan’s B. Anthony’s Indictment.” The Vault: Slate (2014) [WEB]
  • Pinsker, Matthew. “McCutcheon and Campaign Finance Reform.” Weekly Wonk (2014) [WEB]
  • Simpson, Brooks D.  “Ulysses S. Grant and the Electoral Crisis of 1876-77.” Hayes Historical Journal 11 (1992). [WEB]
  • Slonim, Shlomo.  “The Electoral College at Philadelphia: The Evolution of an Ad Hoc Congress for the Selection of a President.”  Journal of American History 73 (June 1986): 35-58.  [JSTOR]
  • Smith, Megan. “The Lost History: Help Us Find the Declaration of Sentiments.” White House (2015) [WEB]

Midterm Exam

On Thursday, October 13, students will take an in-class midterm essay exam that covers material from Alexander Keyssar’s The Right to Vote (2009 ed.). Possible questions will be distributed in advance.

Election Day Posts

By Sunday, November 6 at 5pm, students will be required to post a short essay at the course website that provides a narrative analysis of an Election Day in American history prior to 2000. Each post should contain about 1,000 to 1,500 words (5-7 pages) with occasional hyperlinks and embedded images. The primary source material for this narrative should come from digital newspaper collections and from other digitized or published eyewitness accounts. By Sunday, December 4, these essays should also be revised and at least part of the text should be recorded as a documentary-style short video (to be embedded within the post). Any students who do not want to attempt a video, may choose to simply post a second narrative essay of the same length and scope but now on a different pre-2000 election day story. Late posts will be penalized 5 points per day.   Each submission (11/4 and 12/4) will count for 50 percent of the overall grade on this assignment.

Campaign Papers

By Wednesday, December 14, students will be required to submit a 15- to 17-page paper (typed, double-spaced) providing a narrative analysis of a pivotal election campaign in American political history. All papers should be submitted by email as an attached Word file, and should include a title page (with descriptive title) and Chicago-style footnotes. No bibliography is required, but students may choose to include appendixes with charts, graphs or images. All papers should include a diverse mix of relevant primary and secondary sources demonstrating a sophisticated sense of historical analysis. Papers will be judged on research effort, analytical effectiveness, and prose quality. Late papers will be penalized 5 points per day. Proposals for papers topics, written in the form of a short email clearly outlining topics and likely sources, should be sent to Prof. Pinsker by November 21.

Grade Distribution

Class Participation                   20 percent

Midterm Exam                          20 percent

Election Day Posts                  30 percent

Campaign Papers                    30 percent


Day Date Discussion Topic Reading Assignment
Tuesday 8/29 Methods & Expectations
Thursday 9/1 2016 in Historical Perspective Edsall and Greenberg essays
Rules, Process & Culture
Tuesday 9/6 Revolutionary Voting & the Grammar of Politics Keyssar, chap 1
Thursday 9/8 Founding Rules Constitution + Slonim article
Tuesday 9/13 Toward Democracy & the Nominating System Keyssar, chap 2-3
Thursday 9/15 NO CLASS
Tuesday 9/20 Second Founding: Constitutional Amendments Keyssar, chap 4 + documents
Thursday 9/22 Limits of Suffrage & the Problem of Money Keyssar, chap 5 + Pinsker
Monday 9/26 TV VIEWING: First Presidential Debate
Tuesday 9/27 Woman’s Suffrage From Seneca Falls Keyssar, chap 6 + Sentiments with docs
Thursday 9/29 Woman’s Suffrage To 19th Amendment Keyssar, chap 6 + Anthony
Tuesday 10/4 NO CLASS
Thursday 10/6 Civil Rights Era & the Enduring Color Line Keyssar, chap 7-8
Sunday 10/9 TV VIEWING: Second Presidential Debate
Tuesday 10/11 Gore v. Bush & History of Contested Elections Keyssar, chapter 9
Thursday 10/13 Midterm Exam
Pivotal Elections
Tuesday 10/18 FALL PAUSE
Wednesday 10/19 TV VIEWING: Third Presidential Debate
Thursday 10/20 Election of 1800 Freeman essay
Tuesday 10/25 Election of 1860 Autobiography & Bedell Letter
Thursday 10/27 Election of 1864 Blind Memo & 1864 site
Tuesday 11/1 Compromise of 1877 Simpson essay // HarpWeek
Thursday 11/3 Election of 1896 1896 website
Sunday 11/6 Election Day posts due By 5pm (via website)
Tuesday 11/8 2016 ELECTION DAY (special class)
Thursday 11/10 Election of 1912 O’Mara, chap 1-2
Tuesday 11/15 Election of 1932 O’Mara, chap 3-4
Thursday 11/17 Election of 1968 O’Mara, chap 5
Monday 11/21 Campaign paper proposals due By 5pm (via email)
Tuesday 11/22 Election of 1968 O’Mara, chap 6
Thursday 11/24 THANKSGIVING
Tuesday 11/29 Election of 1992 O’Mara, chap 7
Thursday 12/1 Election of 1992 O’Mara, chap 8
Sunday 12/4 Election Day videos (or second posts) due By 5pm (via website)
Tuesday 12/6 Reforming the System Debate
Thursday 12/8 Lessons & Legacies
Wednesday 12/14 Campaign papers due By 5pm (via email)