Research Facilities

The social science research collections of the Harvard libraries, especially those of Widener, Harvard Law School, and the Center for Government and International Studies (CGIS), are perhaps the best of any university in the world. They are readily available to graduate students in government.

The university maintains a wide variety of computer facilities for instruction and research. The government department maintains a data center and a data archives program, which make available for the research of graduate students, public opinion and voting data of the Inter-University Consortium for Political Research, the Roper Opinion Research Center, and other sources.

In addition, PhD candidates in political science frequently receive dissertation advice and support from the social science research centers of the university.

Professors of government participate in all of the following principal centers:

  • Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
  • Center for American Political Studies
  • Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies
  • Center for Middle Eastern Studies
  • Center for Science and International Affairs
  • Committee on African Studies
  • John K. Fairbank Center for East Asian ュResearch
  • Harvard-MIT Data Center
  • The Institute for Quantitative Social Science
  • The Institute of Politics of the John F. Kennedy School of Government
  • Program in Ethics and the Professions
  • Program in Political Economy
  • Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies
  • Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies
  • Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy
  • The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs

Political Science at Harvard

If you are interested in graduate study in political science, Harvard University’s Department of Government offers exceptional resources. Our dedication to excellence in all fields of political science and our encouragement of diverse approaches are evident in both our faculty and our curriculum.

Throughout your graduate education you will have an opportunity to define and explore your own questions about politics and government. This original research can be greatly facilitated by the resources of the government department and the university. Harvard has the largest university library in the world, together with an almost limitless array of research centers and institutes that bring together scholars and practitioners of government from around the globe.

The best way to sample the opportunities for studying political science at Harvard is to visit us, but this booklet can provide you with an introduction to our program.

The Curriculum

The Department of Government trains students for political science careers in university teaching and advanced research. The PhD degree we offer signifies mastery of a broad discipline of learning, together with competence in a specialized subfield within the discipline. (A master’s degree is not a prerequisite for the PhD program, and the department does not offer an independent master’s degree program. It is possible, however, to obtain a master’s degree in the department without additional work while completing the requirements of the PhD program.) Most students complete the program in approximately six years.

Field Seminars

Field seminars provide a graduate-level introduction to each of the main fields of political science: American politics, international relations, comparative politics, and political philosophy. Each field seminar is co-taught by two leading experts in the field, who represent somewhat different perspectives on the material. Enrollment is limited to graduate students in order to facilitate give-and-take about central issues in the discipline of political science. Field seminars provide the foundation for your subsequent graduate work. They help provide you with a menu for choosing more specialized and more advanced courses in each of the four fields.

Dissertation Research

After the second year of graduate study, students begin research on their PhD dissertations. Writing a dissertation is the most challenging aspect of graduate work, with the greatest opportunities for originality. Dissertation research is supervised by a committee of three faculty members; students typically work closely with their advisors. Many Harvard government department dissertations have appeared subsequently, in revised form, as books.

Major Fields of Study

Political Philosophy

Political philosophy is an essential element in our program, for this field poses the fundamental questions that have guided political scientists for centuries: What is the nature of man-kind? What standards of justice and liberty should guide political action? What is the best form of government?

Each year several lecture series (including the Shklar Lecture, the Olin Series, and the Tanner Lectures) bring outstanding political philosophers to the campus to discuss their work and to meet with students and faculty. The faculty of Harvard’s philosophy department, together with the members of the government department, offer one of the finest concentrations of political theorists in the world.

In addition to the Field Seminar, among the graduate seminars recently offered in the field of political philosophy are:

  • Hobbes
  • Political Theory and the Public Sphere
  • Philosophical Foundations of Rational Choice Theory
  • Classics of Social Theory

PhD dissertations completed recently by students in the department specializing in political philosophy include:

  • "Just Work"
  • "Political Offices and American Constitutional Democracy"
  • "Friendship and Virtue in the Political ­Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau"
  • "James Madison’s Social Compact and the Origins of American Constitutionalism"

American Politics

The major emphasis of this field is American political institutions and processes, including congress, the presidency, the judicial system, electoral behavior and public opinion, the media, and interest groups on local, state, and federal levels. Students concentrating in American politics benefit from the activities of the Center for American Political Studies within the department, as well as the many opportunities provided by the John F. Kennedy School of Government and its Institute of Politics.

For example, the Center for American Political Studies has recently sponsored research on presidential primaries, on congressional committees, and on government regulation of the economy. The Institute of Politics hosts numerous special visits to Harvard by men and women who have distinguished themselves in public life, from cabinet members and campaign managers to senators and Supreme Court justices.

In addition to the Field Seminar, among the graduate seminars recently offered in the field of American politics are:

  • The New Political Economy of Federalism
  • The Presidential-Congressional Nexus
  • American Political Development
  • Educational Politics and Policy

PhD dissertations completed recently by students in the department specializing in American politics include:

  • "Taking Charge: Black Electoral Success and the Redefinition of American Politics"
  • "The Moderation Dilemma: Legislative Coalitions and the Politics of Family and Medical Leave"
  • "Just Leave It to the Courts: How, When, and Why Congress Abdicates Legislative Power"
  • "Federalism and Distributive Politics: ­Towards a Unified Supply-Demand Model of the Politics of Federal Aid"

Comparative Government

The study of comparative politics encompasses not only area studies, such as Russian studies or Latin American studies, but also the cross-­national comparison of political institutions and behavior, focusing, for example, on sources of political stability and instability, the origins of democracy and dictatorship, revolution, socialism, and economic development.

In addition to the Field Seminar, among the graduate seminars recently offered in the field of comparative politics are:

  • Social Capital and Public Affairs: Research Seminar
  • Comparative Politics of the Welfare State
  • Comparative Politics of Post-Socialism
  • Political Science and China

PhD dissertations completed recently by students in the department specializing in comparative politics include:

  • "Legislative Instability: The Dynamics of Agenda Control in the Russian Parliament, 1990–1993"
  • "From Market-Correctors to Market ­Creators: Executive-Ruling Party Relations in the Economic Reforms of Argentina and Venezuela"
  • "Organizing Markets: Property Rights, Governance, and the Politics of Industrial Privatization in a Post-Communist Economy"
  • "Shrinking the State in Mexico: The Puzzles of Successful Neo-liberal Reforms"

International Relations

While comparative government looks at political developments within various countries, international relations examines interactions across national boundaries. It examines such topics as why nations go to war, how nuclear arms can be controlled, and how one country’s economic policies influence another’s.

Among the important resources at Harvard for students of international relations are the many programs at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA) and the Center for Science and International Affairs (CSIA).

In addition to the Field Seminar, among the graduate seminars recently offered in the field of international relations are:

  • Global Politics in the Post-Cold War World
  • US-Latin American Relations
  • Critical Perspectives on Critical IR Theory
  • International Political Economy

PhD dissertations completed recently by students in the department specializing in international relations include:

  • "Revolutions in Sovereignty: On Ideas, Power, and Change in International Relations"
  • "The Trade War at Home: Factor Mobility, International Trade, and Political Coalitions in Democracies"
  • "When Globalization Hits Home: The Politics of Incoming Foreign Direct Investment in the United States"
  • "Domestic Resources of International Environmental Policy: Industry, Environmentalists, and US Power"

Connections Among the Major Fields

The division of political science into four fields facilitates the organization of graduate work, but it does not mean that these fields are watertight compartments. For example, many faculty members and graduate seminars are associated with more than one of the four fields. Similarly, PhD dissertations frequently explore subjects that bridge two or more fields, such as American politics and political philosophy (as in the study of constitutional law) or comparative politics and international relations (as in the comparative study of foreign policy).

Computer Facilities

Harvard University maintains a wide variety of computer facilities for instruction and research. The Harvard-MIT Data Center, located in the Center for Government and International Studies, manages our substantial computer resources. The data center is also the University’s representative to the Inter-University Consortium for Political Research, the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, the National Center for Health Statistics, and is a central contact point for many other archives and data suppliers. Government department graduate students are required to take at least one course in quantitative methods in our sequence, and in practice most take the entire sequence. With the help of the permanent staff of the data center, students gain access to data from hundreds of major social science studies. In addition, computing facilities are available in the center for students fulfilling the quantitative methods requirement or conducting their own research. More information about the data center is available at

Career Placement

The department has an excellent record of graduate placement. Recent graduates have obtained teaching positions at University of Michigan, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, MIT, and Duke, to name but a few institutions of higher learning.