Political Science Gateway Courses
The 200-level gateway courses play an essential role in the Political Science major and minor. They provide an ideal entry point to each of the four major subfields of political science: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory. We also offer a fifth gateway course, Introduction to Law in the Political Arena, which is a great fit for anyone who is interested in the judicial system or considering a career in law.
Gateway courses provide exposure to a broad array of substantive topics in Political Science, as well as to various analytic approaches. They also help prepare students for more in-depth study of topics in our 300-level courses.
For each of our gateway courses, the material below provides information about the types of learning objectives you’ll encounter in each course and how the political science faculty see this course as providing a gateway into other courses in the department.
Each of these gateway courses also meets the needs of a range of different audiences. They sometimes function as a disciplinary overview to fulfill a distribution requirement, an entry-point for first- or second-year students approaching the major, as well as an introduction for advanced political science majors yet to take courses in a particular area.
POLI_SCI 201: Introduction to Political Theory
- Students learn about some of the central themes, questions, and concepts that animate political theory and the history of political thought. They explore various visions of good government across different periods, and various concepts that have been central to political thought such as merit, equality, liberty, and justice.
- Students acquire familiarity with some of political theory's canonical texts, gaining in the process interpretive and critical reading skills.
- Students improve their analytical skills by engaging with lines of arguments offered in political theory’s historical and contemporary texts, assessing their strength and evaluating competing claims, and offering arguments of their own.
- By the end of the course students should have a good sense of major claims and debates pertaining to multiple areas of political theory.
Why is this a gateway course?
Introduction to Political Theory introduces students to the texts, concepts, questions, and methods that allow them to think critically and normatively about political theory. It presents them with a broad array of questions that political theorists have grappled with, and acquaints them with multiple approaches to political theory, including historical and contemporary ones. It thus helps to prepare them for orienting themselves among, choosing between, and benefiting from, more advanced classes in political theory.
POLI_SCI 220: Introduction to American Government and Politics
- Understand the structures and processes of American government and politics, including those relating to institutions, voters, and candidates, and political intermediaries (parties, groups, and the media).
- Understand and apply conceptual tools for studying political science, including collective action, rationality, and strategic behavior.
- Sharpen critical thinking about the American political system by reading and synthesizing contemporary and classical material from various sources.
- Apply arguments about voter behavior and institutions to historical and contemporary political outcomes.
Why is this a gateway course?
Introduction to American Government and Politics is an introductory course that provides foundational knowledge of American politics. It introduces students to the structures and processes of American politics, and to many of the theoretical approaches and conceptual tools used to study this area. The course equips students to delve deeper in courses across the range of the American politics field, including courses on political behavior, political institutions, urban politics, race and politics, and Constitutional law.
POLI_SCI 230: Introduction to Law in the Political Arena
- To learn the basic process by which courts decide civil and criminal cases by participating in a mock trial as a lawyer, witness, or juror. Students should be able, in section, to discuss the relationship between process and outcome and analyze assumptions in the legal system with respect to human capacity and behavior. Discuss important concepts such as bias and discrimination and how they can arise from institutional factors as well as bureaucratic discretion.
- Learn basic process of making, enforcing, and interpreting the law by legislatures, executives, and courts. Students should know the names and roles of actors in the legal system, from judges, to mayors, to prosecutors, to sheriffs, to police.
- The students should be able to discuss important American politics concepts such as democratic accountability (whether citizens are able to hold legal actors accountable for their behavior and whether citizens should have this power), the rule of law (and its importance for legitimacy and obedience), and rational choice (which structures the behavior of actors in the system such as judges, members of congress, and voters).
- The course is designed to give students with a general interest in law or criminal justice a feel for how political scientists study these topics.
Why is this a gateway course?
Introduction to Law in the Political Arena introduces students to how political scientists study the law. Students learn about the law and the interaction between legal actors and other branches of the government, as well as how the law factors into democratic accountability. This course introduces students to concepts and material that may be relevant in a range of upper division Political Science courses, including those focused on race and politics, urban politics, and Constitutional law, among others. It is also valuable for students interested in Legal Studies.
POLI_SCI 240: Introduction to International Relations
- Awareness of different lenses for understanding international relations
- Critical thinking, reading, and writing skills
- Awareness of significant contemporary or historical moments in international politics
- Awareness of common terms in the discipline of IR including levels of analysis, domestic versus international forces, theories of IR, and more
- Exposure to different claims about important forces that shape international politics including great power competition, social construction, race, gender, military force, psychological factors, and more
Why is this a gateway course?Introduction to International Relations is an introductory class that gives students resources, concepts, and methods they can use to think critically about international politics. It is designed as a gateway into more advanced classes in IR in Political Sciences. To that end, it introduces students to a range of methodological approaches that are commonly used among scholars of IR, including realism, liberalism, constructivism and others theories of international relations, causal and interpretive paradigms, case study methods, quantitative methods, and tools for historical analysis.
POLI_SCI 250: Introduction to Comparative Politics
- Students will become proficient in identifying and applying the central questions that motivate research on political structures and processes within countries, as well as differences and similarities across countries.
- Students will be able to demonstrate their understanding of core concepts and a range of theories and approaches for explaining comparative politics.
- Students will improve their analytical skills by constructing causal arguments to explain political phenomena, evaluating competing claims to identify which hypotheses are most convincing, and effectively communicating that analysis.
Why is this a gateway course?Prioritizing breadth rather than depth, Introduction to Comparative Politics provides a starting place for a wide range of comparative politics topics. It focuses on the subfield's foundational concepts, broad research puzzles, and a range of methods and approaches to answering these questions. It thereby equips students to understand what comparative politics is, the diverse ways scholars have studied it, and how students might weigh various tradeoffs in designing their own research later. More general than 300-level course, it aims to offers students a solid basis from which to explore more specific substantive topics, or areas of politics in particular countries/regions, as examined in 300-level courses.