Miller Center

Recasting American Presidential History in the Classroom

by Kathryn Cramer Brownell

The topic of the American presidency captures the interest of students, many of whom have studied the acts and influences of American presidents over the course of their education. Yet public discussions in the media and school curriculum on the history of the presidency overwhelmingly focus on biographical accounts of the men who have held the office. This “top-down” analysis is at odds with new historiographical directions in the field of American political history.

Over the past two decades, historians have challenged this presidential synthesis, shifting focus away from the presidency and examining social movements, the relationship between citizens and interest groups, domestic and international policy, governing institutions, and the role of the United States in the world. In doing so, political historians have explored a more expansive sense of the spheres in which politics happen in order to understand the flow of power.

By integrating a variety of sources into suggested online discussion and research activities for students, this website will encourage students to study the American presidency from a sociocultural perspective. This website aims to begin a classroom conversation about the American presidency in ways that capitalize on a generation of insights from social, economic, cultural, and political historians.

Students are encouraged to think about reordering presidential periods by looking at economic trends, technological changes, and the intersection between local movements and national institutions. These suggested reading and discussion assignments attempt to foster historical discussions about the long, nuanced history of and debate over the place of the president in American political life.

Read more about the project.



Housed by the Miller Center, this website was developed in conjunction with Connecting Presidential Collections with support from the Center for Undergraduate Instructional Excellence at Purdue University.