Politics of the Presidency: Washington to Lincoln

This fall, a small cadre of Williams College students is participating in an experimental history course on the American Presidents.  Instead of producing papers, as is the norm in most history classes, the students will create campaign ads for the presidential elections from Washington to Lincoln.


There’s one catch though.  The students can only use images, quotes, documents and music from the era.  They cannot use anything that came afterwards.  An image of the White House burning in 1812 would not work for the election of 1808.  They cannot use images of Leutze’s famous Washington Crossing the Delaware, a product more reflective of the 1840s than the 1770s. Their assignment is to capture the spirit of the age – not the spirit of our historical memory.


For each video, the students must do as much research (if not more) than they would for a paper in which they were to describe the issues of each election.  The assignment is, on some level, the same as a traditional paper, but they must now express their conclusions in a new form.   We hope to leverage technology to reach a wider audience, and, perhaps, to spark conversations about American history and presidential outside of our classroom.


We’ve begun with John Adams’ election and we will continue to Abraham Lincoln, stopping at all the major, transformative elections.  I invite you to follow along as we move through time.   Each video comes with a detailed explanation of its content and the creative thinking that went into producing it.  We encourage comments on the videos and hope you enjoy.