NIU’s Tocqueville Forum has launched an online journal of essays by undergraduate students on current American political issues related to political philosophy, history, literature and culture.
“Compass: An Undergraduate Journal of American Political Ideas” will publish essays from undergraduates at colleges and universities anywhere in the world. Submissions will come from across academic disciplines, said political science professor Andrea Radasanu, the journal’s editor-in-chief.
“There is nothing like Compass,” Radasanu said. “There are journals that publish undergraduate essays—mostly (as far as we are aware) in print and not online. But there are no journals that aim to publish papers by undergraduates that are intellectual contributions to public discourse.”
Radasanu said writers should aim at essays of about 1,500 to 2,000 words. They should write more informally than they would in a classroom term paper, though she expects that many submissions will be converted from papers that originally were done as class assignments.
“We encourage a lively style that is highly readable,” she said.
“One of the major chief educational benefits of Compass is giving undergraduate students the experience of perfecting a paper. In the regular classroom setting, students usually write a paper, then receive a grade for the paper and move on. Students never have to consider their work in terms of a wider audience and rarely envision the possibility of publishing. Our editorial process involves working with students to tighten and distill their arguments, and to present these arguments clearly and cleanly to an interested wider readership.”
The Tocqueville Forum was founded in 2013 by Radasanu and Dr. Adam Seagrave, who then was also on the faculty of NIU’s Political Science Department. According to its mission statement, the forum uses speakers and fellowships to “foster an intellectual community centered on the study of the ideas and principles of American democracy.”
Seagrave left NIU in 2016 to join the faculty of the University of Missouri, but the Tocqueville Forum continues with Radasanu as its director. This spring, a seminar about Alexander Hamilton sponsored by the Tocqueville Forum will be co-taught by Radasanu and NIU political science professor Matt Streb. It will include a trip to see “Hamilton: The Musical” in Chicago.
Radasanu said Seagrave allows Compass to be hosted on the platform of his own political science journal, called Starting Points. Compass launched in October and is releasing one essay per month for now.
The first one, “In God We Trust: Reconciling Religiosity in a Secular Nation,” by Harvard University senior Tess Saperstein, traces how the Religious Right has changed since the 1980s and what those changes say about Americans’ belief in freedom of religion.
The November essay, “Anti-Hispanic Sentiment and U.S.-Mexico Relations,” by recent Boston University grad Jessica DellAquila, argues that today’s “Build The Wall!” sentiment had parallels as far back as the 1820s.
Radasanu encourages NIU students to make submissions.
“The political climate in America is intensely partisan,” Radasanu said. “I think it is important for young people who are studying American history, politics and American ideas more generally to help reclaim a tone of civility by offering broad and deep perspectives born of thoughtful study and research.
“Articles published in Compass have the potential to reach interested audiences outside of academia,” she added. “If the articles are interesting and insightful, it won’t matter ultimately that undergraduates are publishing them.”