David Collier, Professor

Closed (1) Critical Junctures and Historical Legacies

Applications for Spring 2019 are now closed for this project.


Obviously, history matters. Yet we must ask when, how, and can we know for sure?

Arriving at careful answers to these questions is often a formidable task, and a growing literature on Critical Junctures and Historical Legacies addresses this challenge. Scholars apply the critical juncture framework to look for historical turning points (critical junctures) and evaluate their importance, based on whether the historical legacy is in fact enduring.

Consider examples from the United States, where many scholars focus on historical turning points involving political parties and electoral realignment. President Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s is routinely viewed as a major electoral realignment, a clear case where “history matters” and leaves an enduring legacy. Thus, the New Deal was a critical juncture with abiding consequences.

By contrast, scholars have divergent interpretations of the tumultuous 1890s in the U.S. This period saw a sustained economic crisis beginning in 1893, the populist insurgency of William Jennings Bryan, and the founding of a new party system that launched an important period of Republican Party dominance. Yet we find sharp disagreement on whether the 1890s brought a major electoral realignment.

Today, this approach is highly relevant to evaluating the populism of Trump. A key issue arises here that pervades this entire literature: How much hindsight is needed to evaluate the Trump era and its legacy?

Looking beyond United States, the critical juncture approach is used extensively in studies of Latin America, Western Europe, and other regions as well. Research using this framework spans several fields, including comparative politics, international relations, historical sociology, and economic history. The focus is both on the substantive issues of politics and policy involved in these episodes, and on the methodological challenges of evaluating these transformations.

This project on Critical Junctures and Historical Legacies originated in a roundtable at an Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, convened to recognize the 25th anniversary of Shaping the Political Arena, a prize-winning book on Latin America co-authored by UC Berkeley professors, Ruth Berins Collier and David Collier. The round¬table quickly expanded to become a major research initiative, involving a symposium published in 2017, an extensive website, a national and international network of scholarly discussion on this topic, and now a forthcoming book – comprised of articles that advance the understanding of critical junctures and their legacies.
For further information, see the website (www.critical-juncture.net).


We are seeking an undergraduate research apprentice to participate in the core activities of a project on Critical Junctures and Historical Legacies. These include coordinating electronic files; carrying out Internet searches; assisting with manuscript preparation and maintaining bibliographies; editing manuscripts; and helping with website management.

The research apprentice will become substantively involved and trained in this important approach to analyzing major political transitions in countries across the globe.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Professor David Collier

Qualifications: Excellent writing and editing skills; strong background in web research, literature reviews, and information synthesis; experience with trouble-shooting computer software; good organization and detail-oriented proofreading skills. Also relevant, but not required, is an interest in historical research, particularly with reference to Latin America or Western Europe.

Weekly Hours: 6-8 hrs

Related website: http://www.critical-juncture.net
Related website: http://polisci.berkeley.edu/people/person/david-collier