POL S 447 A: Advanced Seminar in Comparative Politics

Meeting Time: 
WF 9:30am - 11:20am
LOW 217
Joint Sections: 
JSIS A 494 A
Prof. Niko Switek
Niko Switek

Syllabus Description:

JSIS A 494 / PolS 447 (W F 9:30-11:20)

Germany in Europe: From Divided State With a Legacy to Trusted Partner to Guardian of Liberal Democracy?

Course Description:

Quite some Americans look with admiration to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is seen as a stabilizing force in a time of turbulent word politics. In the wake of President Trump upending long standing traditions and practices of US foreign policy, some even see her as the most powerful advocate for liberal democracy, multilateralism and free trade.

This is an interesting state of things, regarding the specific history of Germany in the 20th century. The first experiment with democracy, the Weimar Republic, was short lived, and the subsequent rule of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi-henchmen brought chaos and destruction, leaving millions dead. After the Second World War the divided Germany found itself at the frontline of the cold war: The Western part was quickly being integrated in NATO and the European Community, experiencing a period of strong economic growth and a consolidation of democratic institutions, while Eastern Germany set up a socialist state under the umbrella of Russian influence - ultimately unsuccessful and toppled by a peaceful revolution. The reunification in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin Wall sparked fears of Germany becoming a threat again, which led to a German foreign policy pushing for further European integration on the one hand and visible restraint in world politics, focusing on development assistance and global trade. While Germany has been shedding this restrained and neutral stance for some time, the country is now more in the spotlight than ever, outspokenly defending NATO, the EU and the institutions of multilateral world.

The course focuses on key events in German history and takes a closer look at its political institutions, party landscape and society. A light is shed on more recent developments like the refugee crisis and the rise of new right-wing party. We ask how the totalitarian past and and the legacy of a divided state and society continue to shape today's Germany as well as its position in the European Union and the World.

Course Goal:

This course is designed to offer an overview about German history in the 20th century and provide an in-depth examination of the German political system as an example of a parliamentary democracy, shaped by an influential prime minister ('chancellor-democracy'), a multi-party system and coalition politics. They know about characteristics of the German society, which still is defined by the totalitarian past and the division. They learn about Germany's foreign policy and its role in European integration, specifically for some current examples (e.g. refugee-crisis, Brexit), and understand underlying rationales of Germany's actions and strategies on global level.

Assignments and Grading:

  • Class participation means regular attendance and active involvement in class discussions, which is important for the success of the class (10 % of your grade).
  • Throughout the term students hand in weekly response papers. They are short papers (1 page, about 250 words) in response to prompts on the syllabus (adds up to 20 % of your grade). The papers have to be handed in by each Friday.
  • Students pick one film (documentary or fiction) which relates to Germany and the topics covered in the course. They give a short in-class presentation (about 10 min.), giving background/context of film, description of content, connection to course, a short clip as an example and their critical assessment (20 % of your grade).
  • Based on the presentation students write a film paper. They research scientific references on the topic of the film (at least 4 sources like books or journal articles) and analyze, how far the film represents an actual historical event, phenomenon or societal problem. The structure of the paper should be as follows: background/context about the film, description of story/content, public reception, scientific analysis of topic, conclusion. The paper should have 10 pages or 3000 words, including footnotes and bibliography, with font size 12, double spaced and page numbers. It is due Wednesday, June 12. The research paper accounts for 50 % of your grade.
  • All papers should have course number and student's name and e-mail-address in the page header and be turned in as pdf through the canvas course site.

Please note that late assignments will NOT be accepted and make-up assignments will NOT be given except in cases of documented emergencies or with advance permission of the instructor. In the absence of these provisions late or missing assignments will receive a grad of “0”.

Required Readings:

The required readings are available as PDFs on the course’s website (UW canvas).

Grading Summary:

  • Active participation:             10 %
  • Weekly Response Papers: 20 %
  • Film presentation:             20 %
  • Film paper:                        50 %


A: These papers have a clearly articulated thesis statement, developed through paragraphs, and supported with a variety of relevant (primarily textual) evidence. The arguments demonstrate high dexterity. The writer’s understanding of the writing practices, the methodology, and the materials used as evidence is evident. All the parts are connected and ordered logically, so that reader is never left to figure out relationships. Finally, there are virtually no mechanical errors: spelling, punctuation, and grammar are all standard and evidence is properly cited.

B: These papers have fulfilled the assignment. They demonstrate solid thinking about the issues, and clear investment in argumentation, use of a thesis, evidence, and reasoning. However, some aspects of the paper can still be improved: these papers are likely to contain less evidence that papers with outstanding grades, they could benefit from stronger argumentation through the paper or could have clearer relationships among paragraphs. These are carefully written papers that could use more of something: evidence, connection, critical thought, or accuracy/fluency of expression.

C: These papers demonstrate clear elements of argument, but are weak on evidence, arguing by assertion, for example. The progression of the argument is not logical or is not made apparent, so that sometimes it is difficult to discern the argument. There are disjunctures between sentences within paragraphs and the purpose of many of the paragraphs is not made clear by the writer. Sometimes these papers contain distracting mechanical errors.

D: These papers have elements of argument in them, but they are more summary than argument. However, they are reasonably good summary—clear, well-organized, and competent. Writing is generally grammatically comprehensible, but falls short of standard expectations.

F: These papers are not argumentative and the writing suffers from serious problems of expression or there was no paper turned in.

Academic Integrity:

Plagiarism and cheating are serious offenses. If you have questions regarding your work or what might constitute plagiarism on any of your written assignments, speak to me first. Any work turned in for this class must be original work (i.e. not used for any other class).

Students with Disabilities:

Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or uwdrs@uw.edu or disability.uw.edu. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Catalog Description: 
Selected comparative political problems, political institutions, processes, and issues in comparative perspective. Strongly
Department Requirements: 
Comparative Politics Field
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:08pm