UMass Donahue Institute  
Constituting America, an Institute on American Politics and Political Thought

Constituting America website

Program Overview

Constituting America is our current Study of the U.S. Institute on American Politics and Political Thought, a renewal of the same program which began in 2008 and sponsored by a generous grant from the U.S. Department of State.  Every summer we bring to the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus 18 multi-national professors to take part in a six week program about American politics and political development. 

Constituting America is organized around one of the central questions of American Politics and American Political Thought: what is the mix of "reflection and choice" and "circumstance" in the development of the American state? Within this frame, Constituting America explored continuity and change in the American regime.  Thematically, Constituting America draws heavily upon the political development approach to the study of institutions and thought in the United States.  We examine the work of scholars in this area, both those more historical and political in their orientation, who focus primarily on the institutions that comprise the political arena, and those more social or cultural in their outlook, who center on the ideas, perspectives, and norms that both frame debates and bias outcomes.  Now almost four decades old, the political development approach has produced a rich literature that seeks to explain why American institutions and policies have grown as they have.

The ultimate goal of the Institute is to strengthen curricula and to improve the quality of teaching about the United States at universities abroad by providing participants with a richer understanding of the political development of the American nation, not as a monolithic process leading to the inevitable triumph of a single idea but as a succession of collective responses to the changing social, economic, and geographic circumstances of the country, guided both by principles and ideals given at the outset and by competing traditions of political thought.  Follow-on activities, including e-mail newsletters and content websites, continue to build an on-going learning community of interested scholars and allow for a long term improvement in the depth and quality of teaching about the political system and political thought of the United States.

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