Citizenship and Society in the United States


Popular sovereignty — the idea that the people rule themselves — has been heralded as one of the preeminent innovations of the modern world. And over the course of the last two hundred or so years, a rising tide of nations committed themselves to the principles of popular sovereignty. Yet in recent years, the inevitability, soundness, and very viability of “rule by the people” has come into question. On the one hand, popular uprisings around the globe have rejected the decisions and practices of governing elites on the grounds that they are out of touch with the people’s needs. On the other hand, these uprisings have resurrected and strengthened authoritarian practices and have facilitated the erosion of liberal rights long considered instrumental to preserving democracy. The result — turmoil, unrest, and uncertainty about what the future holds — is evident from Venezuela to England, Turkey to the United States. Can popular sovereignty survive? In what form will the people rule, and at what cost? This First-Year Seminar is an investigation into the idea and practice of popular sovereignty in the contemporary United States. We will explore this topic by actively consulting theory and empirical research in the social sciences. We will supplement this with our own research on the 2022 election, media coverage of issues, popular attitudes about democracy, and popular representation in government and by interest/advocacy groups. Additionally, this class is organized as a collaboration between two first-year seminars: one at Johns Hopkins, the other at Williams College. Over the course of the semester, the two seminars will meet frequently via videoconference to share research and discuss readings and ideas. This is intended to broaden the perspectives brought to bear on our investigation generally and, specifically, to allow each group to share real time research on the politics of the region in which their respective institutions are located. 

Please visit the Office of the Registrar for more information about this course.