United States Military Academy
Department of Social Sciences
Spring 2003





Dr. Meena Bose                                                           jm6762@usma.edu  

216 Lincoln Hall                                                           mbose@alumni.princeton.edu               


          This course examines how political scientists use archives and interviews to evaluate presidential leadership and policies.  We focus on the “modern” presidency, defined as administrations from Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) onward, because of the significant changes in presidential power beginning in the 1930s as well as the extensive archival record available on these presidencies.  We begin with a brief study of the development of the modern presidency and the institutional changes in the past century.  We then turn to case studies in the modern presidency, concentrating on how recently declassified documents have changed interpretations of an administration’s accomplishments, shortcomings, and legacy. 


            The case studies will concentrate on presidencies that recently have faced scrutiny and reexamination in light of newly declassified material.  In particular, we will study the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations, each of which has undergone significant reassessments in the past two decades.  For Eisenhower, we will read John P. Burke’s and Fred I. Greenstein’s How Presidents Test Reality: Decisions on Vietnam 1954 and 1965 (1989), which compares how Eisenhower and Johnson made decisions about U.S. intervention in Vietnam.  This book builds upon Greenstein’s 1982 text The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader, which systematically revised popular and academic accounts of Eisenhower’s leadership, and has influenced an entire generation of scholars.  Professor Greenstein has donated his oral history collection from the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Presidential Libraries to the Department of Social Sciences, as well as documents used for his Vietnam book, and we will use Greenstein’s files in our case studies. 


            For the Kennedy administration, we will examine recent accounts of the Cuban missile crisis, based on declassified transcripts of meetings during the thirteen days of crisis in 1962.  For Johnson, we will examine his decision-making on U.S. intervention in Vietnam in 1964-1965, based upon transcripts of telephone conversations he conducted at the time.  For Nixon, we will study the Watergate crisis, again using transcripts of telephone and office conversations to understand Nixon’s involvement in the cover-up of the 1972 burglary.


            As an advanced liberal arts course, this class will place a premium on informed participation and clear, analytical writing.  Grades will be based on class participation, a midterm and final, a presentation, and three short papers.  The final exam will be cumulative, though with a heavier emphasis on material since the midterm.




Goal 1: Graduates of this seminar will understand the historical development of the modern presidency and its implications for presidential power.


Objective 1: Cadets can discuss the origins of and reasons for the modern presidency.


Objective 2: Cadets can explain how the modern presidency has shaped prospects for presidential influence and power.


Goal 2: Graduates of this seminar will be able to evaluate scholarly research on the modern presidency, especially the role of archival and interview material.


Objective 1: Cadets can explain how scholars use primary-source material in studying the presidency.


Objective 2: Cadets can evaluate how primary-source material has shaped reassessments of modern presidents.


Goal 3: Graduates of this seminar will be able to use and evaluate primary source material in individual research projects on the modern presidency.


Objective 1: Cadets can critically evaluate scholarly debates in the modern presidency by making use of the declassified record as well as secondary sources and interviews. 


Objective 2: Cadets can use their research projects to inform their broader understanding of leadership in the modern presidency.


Goal 4: Graduates of this seminar will improve their analytical reasoning and oral and written communication skills.


Objective 1: Cadets can prepare theoretically grounded case studies of modern presidential leadership.


Objective 2: Cadets can employ logical reasoning and oral communication skills in a formal presentation to the class on their research.


             This course is organized as a seminar, which means that daily participation is essential to understanding the readings and developing your knowledge.  We will analyze secondary and primary sources in this course, and careful reading of the assignments will be necessary to participate in class discussions.  The course also contains short writing assignments, which will require preparation throughout the semester.  If you keep up with the syllabus, you will find this course both educational and enjoyable.


Grades will be based on the following:


Participation (Classroom discussion, short presentations)                           100 points

WPR                                                                                                       100 points

Three short papers (1,250 words each -- 200 points/paper)                     600 points

TEE Equivalent                                                                                        200 points

TOTAL                                                                                                   1,000 points


1. Participation – A seminar requires informed involvement from all participants, and you are expected to attend class and speak regularly.  Questions and discussion are welcome, and indeed are the means through which we all learn about the course material. 


2. WPR – To be discussed in class.  Format will likely be short answers and an essay.


3. Papers -- See below.


4. TEE Equivalent – To be discussed in class.  Format will be similar to WPR.


GRADES: To successfully complete SS490A, you must demonstrate achievement of the course objectives.  The grading scale for the Department of Social Sciences follows:


Level of Achievement

Letter Grade






Mastery of concepts.

Can apply concepts to

new situations.










Solid understanding of

concepts.  Strong foundation

for future work.










Acceptable understanding.




Questionable foundation for

future work.

Marginal Proficiency



Doubtful understanding.




Weak foundation for

future work.




Definitely failed to

demonstrate understanding.





Beschloss, Michael R.  Reaching for Glory: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1964-1965.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.


Burke, John P., and Fred I. Greenstein.  How Presidents Test Reality: Decisions on Vietnam 1954 and 1965.  New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1989.


Kutler, Stanley I.  Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.


May, Ernest R., and Philip D. Zelikow.  The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997.


Skinner, Kiron K., Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson, eds.  Reagan in His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan that Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.




            Because this course devotes so much attention to the archival record of modern presidents, the three short writing assignments will focus on using primary-source material to reevaluate scholarly analyses.  The purpose of these assignments is for students to examine a scholarly debate in the modern presidency in more detail than we can in class, and to share their findings with the seminar.  To ensure that students will have access to declassified material, case studies will focus on administrations from FDR to Nixon.  While students will have broad flexibility in choosing their topics, they are expected to address a subject in which the declassified record will illuminate our understanding of presidential leadership in that administration.


            Students will write three short papers during the semester, each of which will be approximately 1,250 words (exclusive of notes).  Students will have two options for each paper:


·        Select a recent scholarly book about the president and evaluate the author’s analysis in light of the declassified record.

·        Select a memoir from a presidential administration and evaluate the author’s analysis in light of the declassified record.


            Each paper should focus on a particular controversy in an administration (such as Eisenhower’s reluctance to send troops to Vietnam or Kennedy’s evolving commitment to civil rights), and then use the available declassified record to reach a conclusion in the debate.  To support the analysis, each paper should make use of the following:


·        Recent scholarly book about the president or memoir from the administration.

·        Scholarly reviews of the book (or scholarly journal articles, if memoir is used).

·        Primary-source material on president (Greenstein archives, documents on presidential library websites, etc.).


Students will give a short oral presentation to the class on one of their papers.  Presentation dates will be assigned in class.



·        Papers must be typed and double-spacedUse a 12-point font, one-inch margins, and page numbers.

·        Papers should contain a title page with a thoughtful and creative title, as well as an introduction, body, and conclusion, with subheads to separate the sections.

·        Be sure to provide complete FOOTNOTES for any sources you use.  Also be sure, of course, to include a bibliography.

·        The Little, Brown Handbook provides the standard for the footnote and bibliographic formats that you will use.  Use the Chicago style documentation.


·        Remember that the best writing is clear and direct.  Do not waste space with long-winded phrases or convoluted sentences.  Say precisely what you mean.  Avoid slang and the passive voice.

·        Double-check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation.



            Cadets will document in accordance with the USMA Documentation of Written Work (DWW)(August 2001), the Little, Brown Handbook, and guidance above.  Needless to say, whatever you submit should be in your own words.  Direct copying of a text, or even copying the basic structure of the text while changing a few words here and there, constitutes plagiarism.  Failure to attribute information taken from sources also is plagiarism.  Be sure to cite all sources that you use, not just for direct quotations but also for ideas, facts, etc.  Per the DWW, the documentation must leave no doubt about the source of ideas, words, data, or products of another person or about the specific nature and source of the collaboration or assistance received. See the instructor if you have questions.