module specification

GI5067 - Contemporary US Politics (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title Contemporary US Politics
Module level Intermediate (05)
Credit rating for module 15
School School of Social Sciences
Total study hours 150
105 hours Guided independent study
45 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Seminar 20%   Seminar Presentation
Coursework 80%   Essay
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Autumn semester North Thursday Morning

Module summary

This module examines the structure, values and operation of the US government, including all its principles of exceptionalism, the major institutions and key actors. It examines the policy-making process, electoral politics and the roles of interest groups and the media. It also looks at some major areas of controversy within American politics, such as political ethics, gun control, healthcare (Obamacare), and race and immigration.

In the wake of the election of the property-tycoon and celebrity Donald Trump as the President in 2016, it considers the impact of the celebrity politician, social media and cyber-activity in US political life.

Module aims

This module aims to:

  • examine and analyse the structure and operation of the American government
  • develop awareness of the domestic and international context in which US government makes policy
  • raise awareness of, and enable informed engagement with, contemporary controversial and ethical issues in American government and public policy making
  • provide a supportive environment for the development of competence in discussion and oral presentation
  • develop and encourage confidence in the use of appropriate analytical, written and oral skills, to enhance students’ transferable skills and employability.


  • Institutions of Government - The Constitution; the Presidency; the Congress; the Supreme Court; Federalism
  • The Political Process - Interest groups; political parties; mass media; elections and voting behaviour; celebrity politics; cyber-activity and the use of the social media.
  • Policymaking - Gun control; race and immigration; welfare and health-care reform; abortion policy
  • Employability Enhancement – researching government-produced data/documents, on-line resources and presenting findings

Learning and teaching

  • There is a two-hour weekly lecture and a one-hour weekly seminar.
  • Lectures incorporate a mixture of speaking, Power Point slides. Prezi and video presentations and use of IT.
  • Seminars are centred on a series of pre-prepared questions, student presentations and multimedia resources.
  • Blended learning is encouraged in the classroom through the use of multimedia and internet resources. This is complimented outside the classroom by the use of a module website containing a range of materials designed to enhance students’ learning, including lecture notes, guides to improving essay writing and seminar skills, and resources such as links to relevant websites, online articles, videos and podcasts.
  • Reflective learning is encouraged through the use of self-reflection tasks accompanying seminar presentations and the written assignment.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will:

  • be able to demonstrate an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the US system of government, including the significance of principles such as the separation of powers, and checks and balances
  • appreciate the interplay of a range of political actors and institutions in the policy-making process
  • be able to assess and critically analyse domestic and international events that impact on the US, including their causes and implications
  • show an awareness of, and more confidence in, using learning, academic and communication skills, including evaluating news reports and official statements about American government
  • have developed a range of transferable employability skills, in oral, writing and research competencies

Assessment strategy

Assessment is based on two elements:

  1. An essay, worth 80% of the final grade. It will be 2500 words in length. This must be submitted by week 14.
  2. A seminar presentation, worth 20% of the final grade, based on the topics dealt with in the course.


R. Duncan and J. Goddard (2005) Contemporary America, 2nd ed. (London: Palgrave  Macmillan)
D. McKay (2013) American Politics and Society, 8th ed. (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell)
D. Mckay, D. Houghton and A. Wroe (2002) Controversies in American Politics and Society (Oxford: Basil Blackwell)
R. McKeever and P. Davies (2013) Politics USA, 3rd ed. (London: Pearson Longman)
G. Peele (ed.) (2014) Developments in American Politics 7 (London: Palgrave Macmillan)
R. Singh (ed.) (2003) Governing America: The Politics of a Divided Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
R. Singh (2003) Contemporary American Politics and Society: Issues and Controversies  (London: Sage)
H. Sitkoff (ed.) (2001) Perspectives on Modern America (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
M. Wheeler (2013) Celebrity Politics: Image and Identity in Modern Political Communications (Cambridge: Polity)
M. J. C. Vile (2007) Politics in the USA, 6th ed. (London: Routledge)
  Web Sites:
The US Government portal -
The White House -
The National Archives -
The Republican Party -
The Democratic Party -