When undergraduates want to study legislatures, more often than not their choice is limited to a course on Congress, although they may find a course on the legislative process which includes attention to state legislatures. This is hardly a cause for student discontent. The first, and often the only, ambition of political science students is to learn about the American system of government. That is why the introductory course in the discipline is usually a course in American government, why courses on state and local politics are entirely concerned with the United States, why courses on political parties are really about the Democratic and Republican parties, and why there are hardly any courses on the executive at all since the only subject in that area which is taught is the American presidency.
It was not always so. A century ago, as curricula in political science developed in American universities, a general, theoretical concept of politics, derived from continental and particularly German approaches to the subject predominated. The focus on American politics came a full generation later, inspired by a concern for citizenship training and by the prospect of large captive audiences in classrooms of students fulfilling teacher certification requirements.
America First was consistent with the mood of the United States in the 1920s, but less so in the 1930s and 1940s. In those decades student interest in non-American politics revived in response to the nation's involvement in world affairs, and this interest was expressed in the curriculum by separate courses, often misnamed “comparative government.” These were frequently courses in a series of major foreign governments, shaped by the writing and teaching of a new cohort of emigré faculty who revived the European influence on American political science. In this form the study of what was called “comparative government” gained a larger place in the curricula of departments of political science. But as a subfield of the discipline, comparative government remained too small, and the approach was too country-specific, to permit sub-specialization except by geographic areas. There was no place in it for courses on non-American legislatures, or executives, or political parties.