Assignments

Written Requirements

You have two options: (1) one long paper of approximately 25 pages OR (2) five short papers of 4-5 pages each. There will be no final exam.

1. Long Paper: Pick an instance of regime change not covered in the course, and analyze it in detail. Your topic may be a military coup, revolution, civil war, peaceful transition to democracy, or some similar instance of regime change. It may also be a period of political crisis in which regime change did not occur--e.g., a failed coup attempt or uprising. It can be very specific (e.g., the 1989 suppression of the pro-democracy movement in China’s Tiananmen Square) or reasonably broad (e.g., the breakdown of democracy in Brazil in 1964). In either case, your paper must draw on at least some primary sources (newspaper articles, government documents, or interviews), as well as on secondary sources.

In analyzing your case, you should pay special attention to four questions. First, what happened in the case you are studying? The more narrow your focus, the more specific your paper should be--for instance, if you were analyzing the failure of the democracy movement in China, you should report details like which military units were deployed during the Tiananmen Square massacre, where, and when.

Second, what larger, structural factors played a role in the event you are analyzing? This portion of your paper should include a discussion of the effects of class structure, ethnic cleavages, political culture, perverse institutional arrangements, and similar background conditions. For instance, if you were studying the Brazilian military coup of 1964, you would mention factors like extreme socio-economic inequality, low levels of education, a history of military participation in government, and similar issues.

Third, what were the short-term triggers for the event you chose to analyze? Common factors include the state of the economy, specific civil-military disagreements, incompetent or polarizing leadership, and similar variables. In the Brazilian coup, for example, you would presumably discuss the rhetoric and policies of President Goulart, leftist mobilization, and rampant inflation.

Fourth, is the incident you analyzed better explained by structural or short-term factors? What realistic options did leaders have? Were specific mistakes made that fundamentally changed the course of events? Or was the event you describe basically destined to occur (though not necessarily exactly when it did)?

If you choose to write a long paper, you must come up with a list of potential topics by Class #3. These topics should be in the form of clearly articulated questions about your case (including the time frame you will analyze), rather than simply vague expressions of interest. By Class #5, you must select one of these topics and submit a comprehensive bibliography of sources related to that topic. You must also submit a one-page summary of your topic, which indicates that you have already read some of the key sources in your bibliography. By Class #8, you must submit a two-page overview of your case that summarizes your overall conclusions and argument, as well as a 5-10 page analysis of the incident you have chosen to analyze – that is, what happened, when, etc. By Class #11, you must submit a second installment of 5-10 pages, summarizing the theoretical section of your paper – that is, why things turned out the way they did. By Class #13, you must submit a complete draft of your paper. This version should be polished and free of grammatical or stylistic errors. I will return this draft to you by the following week, and you will then have an additional week before the end of the semester to revise your paper based on my comments. In Class #17, you must then submit a final version of your paper to me and to the rest of the class (by email). In Class #18, you will be expected to present the findings of your paper in class (plan on a presentation of 10-12 minutes, with transparencies if you wish). If class discussion of your paper leads you to change your conclusions or argument in some way, you may submit a revised version any time on or before Class #19. Please note that each of your submissions will be graded separately.

Suggested Research Paper Topics (PDF)

2. Short Papers: Short papers should be 1,000-1,250 words and should address issues raised by the required readings from that week in a coherent way. They should not be composites of separate critiques of the readings. Rather, they should develop a coherent argument regarding the topic of the week, support that argument with evidence from the readings, and refute potential counter-arguments. For instance, in the second week of the class, the readings cover the causes of democracy. For this week, you may wish to discuss which factors seem most important. Alternatively, you might try analyzing which of the causes of democracy discussed by Huntington and Diamond best explain why democracy was not consolidated in the cases we discussed in the first week of class (ancient Israel, Pakistan, Venezuela, Ecuador, etc.).

In the third week of the class, readings focus on “modernization theory” (the argument advanced by Lipset, Huntington, Diamond and others that economic development leads to democracy). You may wish to defend this argument, or to argue that it is fundamentally flawed. In either case, you would then summarize the argument, recapitulate the evidence presented for it, and explain why this evidence is compelling or insufficient.

As a rule of thumb, you should leave at least eight hours to write a good short paper, in addition to the time you spend on the readings.

Short papers are due by 4 p.m. on the Sunday before Class #4. They may also be emailed to me as a Microsoft Word attachment but must be received by 4 p.m. I will then print them out and grade them. I’d like to practice blind grading, so please don’t include a title page or put your name in the footer; instead, put your name on a separate page after the paper. Also, at the risk of stifling self-expression and generally sounding like a pain, I ask that all essays and short papers be double-spaced and submitted in Times font. (Otherwise I learn people’s fonts after the first paper, which defeats the purpose of blind grading.)

Finally, if you choose to write short papers, you must space them out to some degree over the course of the semester. Unless you clear it with me ahead of time, you will be expected to write at least two papers in the first six weeks of the class and at least two in the last six weeks.

Oral Requirements

Oral requirements consist of regular class participation and one or two class presentations (depending on enrollment).

1. Class Participation: Students are expected to participate actively and intelligently in class discussions. As a rule of thumb, you should plan to spend about an hour or two going over your notes from the readings and preparing for class each week, after you have completed the readings.

My somewhat odd habit is to assign all students a letter grade for each class session, which makes grading overall class participation less arbitrary. Please notify me at the beginning of the class if, for whatever reason, you are unprepared to participate in class discussion that day. Also, if you must miss a class, please let me know in advance. Each student is entitled to one unexcused absence or “unprepared” over the course of the semester; any more will count against your class participation grade.

2. Presentation(s): Each class will begin with a brief (5-15 minute) presentation discussing and critiquing the readings. You should choose a week--or, in the case of enrollment under twelve people, two weeks--for your presentation. Bear in mind that the goal of your presentation is to refresh people’s memories about the readings, to highlight the key areas of disagreement, and to tee up questions for class discussion; you should not feel
compelled to mechanically summarize every article. As a rule of thumb, you should plan to spend an extra hour preparing for class on the day of your presentation(s).

Those of you writing longer papers will be expected to present the results of your findings in Class #18. This presentation will count as part of your paper grade (below).

Other Assignments

In addition to papers and readings, you will have a handful of small assignments over the course of the semester. For the second week of the semester, for instance, you must register to vote. If you actively wish not to register you may instead submit a 100-word statement on how politics is relevant to your life. If you are not a citizen and thus cannot register in the United States, you may either show proof of registration in your home country or write the 100-word statement.

In several weeks, readings are supplemented by popular films or documentaries. These are intended to convey the flavor of the times and the feel of everyday life in the cases we study; they are also very good films in their own right. They are not intended to oppress you with further work. Keep in mind, however, that the Chile documentaries are quite long (over 2 hours each), so be sure to leave time in your schedule. I will arrange for a group screening of the films; they will also be on reserve in case you cannot make that time.

For the week on the American Revolution in Boston, you will be asked to walk the Freedom Trail instead of watching a movie. It will be spring then, and this should be fun. In any case, make sure you do this even if you have already done so.

The most important small assignment is due in Class #4 (when we discuss modernization theory). For this assignment, you are expected to review data on democracy available through the course website (or, if you wish, some other data set). You will be expected to present your findings in class, so make sure to come prepared. Plan on spending at least two hours on data analysis.

Sample Student Paper
"Explaining the Coup in Cote d'Ivoire" by Daniel Berger (2001) (PDF)