Department Learning Goals

We outline each of the four subfields in Government as follows:

Political Theory
Political theory courses at Bowdoin explore the fundamental issues of political life—human nature, justice, authority, virtue, freedom, equality, natural rights, democracy, and history—through a careful examination of what the greatest minds have thought about these issues.  The courses range from broad surveys (Classical Political Philosophy, Modern Political Philosophy, Contemporary Political Philosophy, and American Political Thought) to thematic courses (Liberalism and Its Critics, Religion and Politics, and Eros and Politics) to advanced seminars on individual thinkers (Rousseau, Jefferson, Tocqueville, and Nietzsche).  The courses are designed to provide students not only with a deeper understanding of the history of political thought from Plato to Rawls but also with the ability to read complex philosophical texts and write rigorous analyses of them.

Comparative Politics
Comparative Politics is a field of study and a methodology within political science. The subfield of comparative politics focuses on power and decision making within national boundaries:  the rules and institutions that govern states and the social groups they comprise.  Some scholars focus on politics in a single country, others specialize regionally, while others investigate variation in patterns of authority cross-nationally.  As a method, comparative political science strives to make propositions that can be tested empirically, through qualitative or quantitative analysis, and which hold validity across all systems or within well-defined limits.  Topics central to the field include the origins of democracy and dictatorship, reasons for economic growth and stagnation, sources of social conflict, and avenues for participation and representation.

American Politics 
Topics of study include the major governing institutions and actors—Congress, the Presidency, the courts, public bureaucracies, state and local governments, political parties, the media and interest groups—and the primary modes of political participation, including lobbying, social movements, elections, public opinion and voting. Typically, students in this field draw on several approaches when conducting these studies.  Institutional studies focus on how rules and enduring governing structures shape political processes and outcomes. Behavioral analyses examine how individuals—from activists to the general public—think about and engage in political activity.  We adopt no single methodological approach to the study of American politics.  Some courses focus on the historical development of American institutions and policy; a number of courses document the jurisprudence surrounding key questions and controversies; other courses focus on statistical relationships between variables and the predictive and explanatory power of these models.  

International Relations
International relations is the study of relationships in the international political world, including matters of war and peace, global economic development or crisis, and transnational issues such as terrorism or environmental degradation. Traditional areas of study include international law, international institutions, security studies, states and non-state actors, nuclear weapons, cyber warfare, international political economy, international cooperation, foreign policy, eras of warfare, and conflict resolution. To the benefit of both subfields, topics in international relations often interconnect with areas in comparative politics, with comparative politics bringing nuance to issues like war and development, while international relations can paint a “big picture,” of politics across state borders and between diverse populations.

We define the learning goals for our majors as follows:

1.  Substantive Knowledge of Government and Politics:  Students should gain an understanding of essential concepts and theories in all of the four major subfields of the discipline (American politics, international relations, comparative politics, and political theory) and be able to employ these concepts and theories independently in analyzing empirical events.  In that sense, we seek to graduate students who can describe in analytical terms the actions undertaken by political actors in the domestic and international arenas.  We expect our students to concentrate in one of these subfields, however, and to therefore be more proficient in questions derived from that study.  A capstone seminar in their concentrated subfield will be the principal course used to assess the degree to which this disciplinary learning objective has been met.  (Students can also meet this requirement with an advanced independent study or by completing an Honors project.)  

2.  Critical Analysis and Argumentation:  Students should be able to critically analyze readings in government and politics.  They should additionally be able to formulate clear oral and written arguments that address issues in dispute in the discipline of political science and defend their arguments with adequate evidence. These goals can be expanded as:

a)    Effective writing—we seek to graduate students who can write clearly and effectively. Specifically, we want students to be able to articulate a clear thesis, to support it with logic and evidence, and to present it in clear, grammatically correct prose.  It is also important that students understand and make use of appropriate citation.
b)    Analytical thinking—we seek to expose students to a variety of perspectives on politics and approaches to political science designed to foster their ability to assess and evaluate competing viewpoints.
c)    Critical reading—we seek to help students learn how to read and evaluate a text. Specifically, we want students to be able to identify the main thesis question or hypothesis and to evaluate the author’s use of evidence and logic in support of the thesis or hypothesis.
d)    Library and research skills—we seek to have students learn how to locate and to utilize effectively the rich array of paper and electronic resources available to them.

These two main goals are assessed in the process of completing the major requirements:

•    1000-level courses serve as introductions to broad concepts of government and politics.  Students also have ample opportunities in these courses to begin developing skills in critical analysis and argumentation.  Our FYS, in particular, cultivate these latter skills.
•    2000-level courses reinforce these objectives, advancing knowledge of government and politics and further developing skills of writing, argumentation, and analysis.
•    3000-level courses allow students to master concepts and ideas in very specific areas of the discipline.  These courses also advance critical analysis and argumentation skills through numerous writing assignments and a heavy emphasis on class discussion and debate.

Download the Complete Learning Goals Statement.