Dr. Bob Miller  


Modern American Presidents: From FDR to the Present


Purpose of the Course:

This course is designed to provide an overview of Presidential history, character, and leadership.  We will examine and evaluate the growth of the American Presidency from the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 to the present day.  The Great Depression, World War II, the cold war, and the quest for racial equality will provide the necessary historical contexts for our analysis of presidential politics and power.  Some attention will also be devoted to the role of First Ladies, the role of the media, and presidential scandals.  Since this course will coincide with the early days of the Bush Administration, we will also devote some time to the importance of the enduring legacy of a new President's "first 100 days."

 While the subject matter of the course is the Modern American presidency, my underlying goal is to get you to make politics a part of your everyday life for at least this quarter.

Learning is not a spectator sport: You are expected to do your assigned readings prior to class and come prepared to discuss the material.


William Leuchtenburg, In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Bill Clinton, 2d ed. (Ithaca,   NY: Cornell University Press, 1993)

William C. Berman, America's Right Turn: From Nixon to Clinton, 2d ed. Baltimore:Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998)


Attendance for all of our class sessions is mandatory.  Make sure to have your Saturdays free of all other family and work commitments.

Course Work:

Over half of your work will for the course will be completed by the time our class actually meets in February.  You will be responsible for four short assignments (see below) and a review essay of the two books.  This work will be done prior to our class meeting.

Each pre-work assignment is worth 10 points.  The purpose of these assignments is to help stimulate class discussions:

Exercise #1: Due February 23, 2001

Rank the Presidents: to the best of your ability, use the handout provided to rank the effectiveness of Modern Presidents from FDR to Clinton.  Tabulate your scores on the handout provided and attach a short typed paper discussing your conclusions.

Exercise #2: Due February 24, 2001

Hollywood's Depiction of the President: (1) watch a film that features the President as one of its main characters.  Some suggested films are 13 Days, Air Force One, Dave, An American President, or perhaps a vintage film like Seven Days in May or Failsafe.  Then watch at least one episode of The West Wing (Wednesdays, 9-10 on NBC). (2) In a short paper address the following points: How does the movie character compare to Martin Sheen's character on The West Wing.  How are the film and television images similar/different?  In your opinion, what kinds of qualities does each character lack or possess?  Do they seem presidential?

 Exercise #3: February 24, 2001

The Presidency and the Media: Or Point/Counterpoint: Go to http://www.newspapers.com/ and find three websites of newspapers with different points of view.  This will require you to do a little investigation.  Be creative.  You might want to survey papers form different geographic regions, different colleges, or ones that represent different religious denominations (just make sure that your selections are involved in discussions of the Presidency).  Everyone will read new from the week of January 15-21st.  Compile a list of all of the articles that each paper ran on the Bush administration, the inauguration, and related topics.  In a separate paragraph, describe some of the differences in coverage that you observed.

Exercise #4: February 25, 2001

Photo Essay: each person will be assigned a different President.  You will be required to present at least ten photos that depict the President at different periods of his time in office.  What kinds of changes were you able to detect in his physical appearance?  For this assignment to be effective it is imperative that you take good notes about where the photos were found (make sure to provide date of the photo and its significance).  You will be required to make either one set of transparencies or photocopies for everyone in class for this assignment.  PowerPoint is also an option.

Review Essay:

This assignment is worth 20 per cent of your final grade.  Compare and contrast the major arguments form In the Shadow of FDR and America's Right Turn.  Which political legacy, in your opinion has the greatest impact on presidential politics in the beginning of the 21st century: the shadow of FDR or the repercussions from the election of 1968?  Justify your argument.  This paper should be 3-5 pages, typed, double-spaced.  It should be in my mailbox or emailed to me by February 19th, the Monday prior to our class.

Take Home Final

Forty per cent of your final grade will be determined by a take home final that will be comprehensive in nature and essay in its format.  You will have an element of choice but you will also be required to answer questions that will incorporate your outside reading, the material from lectures and film excerpts shown in class.  The final should be 8-10 typed pages and is due on Monday, March 12, 2001.

Schedule of Topics for Our Weekend

Friday, February 23, 2001

 Setting Standards and Breaking Precedents

Saturday, February 24, 2001

The Limits of Presidential Power: The Early Cold War Years, 1947-63

The Reluctant Response: The Challenge of Civil Rights, 1933-63

Sunday, February 25, 2001

The Imperial Presidency at Full Stride

In the Shadow of Watergate: The Decline of the Presidency

Ronald Reagan and the Revival of Presidential Power in the 1980s  

George Bush and the Limits of the Presidency

 The Presidency Since 1993

Take Home Final & Course Evaluations 

Go Home and Get Reacquainted with Your Family

To Learn More About the Presidency see Presidential Resources