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Electoral College: Studying the Election with "HNRS 2013: See How They Run"

Honors students scrutinize the historic 2008 Presidential Election in the classroom
Electoral College: Studying the Election with "HNRS 2013: See How They Run"

Honors junior Madeline Peters (second from left) took Dr. Mann's course while also spearheading the Geaux Vote campaign, helping register more than 2,000 students to vote. Madeline is participating in an internship in Washington, D.C., for Meet the Press.

The 2008 election season proved to be one of the most significant in history on many levels, one being the incredible involvement by young voters and activists in the political process.

From the beginning of the campaigns to the final election, Honors students were weaving their experiences into the story that will be talked about and studied for decades. One Honors course, in particular, provided students a unique perspective and a front seat to history.

Dr. Robert “Bob” Mann, political communication area head for the Manship School of Mass Communication, taught a section of HNRS 2013: The 20th Century, entitled ““See How They Run: The Substance and Theater of the 2008 Presidential Campaign.”  The course provided an unbiased perspective on both major campaigns, their strategies and their comparisons to presidential campaigns throughout history.

“It was a class in which we tried to look at the presidential election from every conceivable angle, and it started out with a pretty good foundation of presidential campaign history,” Mann says.

The course began with broad topics and narrowed as it progressed, Mann says.  Students first spent time studying the idea of narratives in campaigns, then read Sen. John McCain’s biography and Sen. Barack Obama’s memoirs, before eventually scrutinizing the actual campaigns.

“It was incredible to come to class and be able to discuss current situations and compare them to past experiences as explained by Dr. Mann,” says Honors junior Madeline Peters.  “We would predict the outcome of events and their effect on the election and then be able to see how they played out.”

Students also benefitted from high-profile visits to the classroom by former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island.  “They gave really good insight into the election,” Mann says.  “I want the students to know that they can’t take it all at face value.  Politics is in many ways very mysterious, and people don’t understand it, but they really want to.  They want to try to be more sophisticated and more educated, and I think they really want to make good decisions.”

The final project for the course was a comprehensive examination of one or both of the campaigns, and students were put in pairs. “A number of them were as good as anything I’ve ever seen,” Mann says.  “And I don’t give A’s away. I wish I could teach Honors students all the time because they come prepared and are enthusiastic.”

While Mann’s goal was to enhance student’s understanding of the electoral process, some can now apply what they’ve learned to their careers and lives.

“The Honors College does a great job of creating classes that relate to the issues and happenings of today,” Peters says. “It is a great way to encourage students to learn and apply what we have learned in the classroom to real world experiences. I was able to develop the knowledge and skills to be an active citizen in the democratic process and stay in tune to elections and the implications the policies that could potentially be enacted effect me.”

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