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Harvard University

Introduction to American Civics: Presented by Zero-L

Harvard University via edX


The hallmarks of our system of government are a written constitution with judicial review, federalism, and separation of powers. What do these involve, exactly? What are the differences between federal and state law, and how do they relate to one another? What is the relationship between a legislature and an administrative agency? What role does our centuries’ old federal Constitution play in the formulation, implementation, and interpretation of contemporary law?

Despite the fact that U.S. governments and U.S. laws shape the day-to-day life of every U.S. citizen and resident (and indeed the lives of people around the world), many do not fully understand key elements of these institutions. This course offers an introduction to them that is at once concise, clear, and sophisticated.

Topics covered include:

  • Distinguishing laws from other kinds of rules
  • The role of state versus federal law
  • Key differences among the many sources of U.S. law, such as the federal and state constitutions, and federal and state statutes, regulations, and court decisions
  • The legislative process
  • The distinctive features of the modern administrative state.
  • The principle of separated powers.
  • The changing place of the U.S. Constitution and the practice of judicial review over our nation’s history.


List of Modules:

  • Kinds of Law
  • What is Law?
  • Federal vs. State Law and Order of Authorities
  • How a Bill Becomes a Law
  • Introduction to the Separation of Powers
  • An Historical Overview of the Constitution
  • Law and History

Taught by

I. Glenn Cohen, Charles Fried, Randall Kennedy, Susan Davies, Jody Freeman, Noah Feldman and Annette Gordon-Reed


5.0 rating, based on 1 Class Central review

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  • This course was great! It is a perfect course for a refresher on the legal system OR an intro to the government, how laws are born and enacted, and the legal system. It was easy, quick, and packed with great material. I signed up for this course to refresh my memory about the different houses of government and for a better explanation about the Order of Authorities, and both goals were accomplished. I liked the cheesy videos accompanying the lecture.

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