The Political Science Department seeks to address issues of power, citizenship, government, and justice in the United States and throughout the world by studying the diversity of political life and thought in our own age and in the past. Our goal is to provide students with a deep understanding of the core concepts and practices of politics and government while developing the analytical, research, and writing skills that enable them to think critically and creatively about existing structures of power and privilege. In doing so, we hope to nurture a lifelong fascination and engagement with the political realm.
Haverford’s program is designed to provide an understanding of how and why decisions are made. For many students this knowledge serves as the foundation for participation in public affairs and the shaping of the policies that affect their communities and their personal lives. Many majors choose to go on to law school. Many others choose to go into government service, journalism, teaching, or community organizing, among other career pathways. Given that most of our classes are small enough to allow ample discussion and dialogue, students leave Haverford well equipped for those continuing discussions that determine the quality of life in our society.
The Political Science Department provides students with an opportunity to explore politics and government from multiple vantage points—at the grassroots, the nation-state, and the global community—and from a variety of theoretical, conceptual, comparative, historical, and experiential perspectives.
We aim to:
- provide students with a broad background in the discipline of political science, including its multiple methods and subfields as well as substantive knowledge (i.e., facts, concepts, theories, etc.) about different debates and topics within the discipline.
- guide students so they can make pathways through the curriculum in ways that reflect an accumulation of learning and that help them develop a greater level of mastery over at least one body of scholarship within political science.
- cultivate critical, analytic and synthetic thinking about local, national, international and transnational politics, as well as about the nature of political power, governance, citizenship, and justice.
- help students acquire the skills of communication, collaboration, and listening necessary for effective participation within an intellectual community.
- train students to carry out sustained independent research.
- prepare students to become informed and reflective citizens who are knowledgeable about the forces that shape political life.
Haverford’s Institutional Learning Goals are available on the President’s website, at http://hav.to/learninggoals.
We offer courses in the five subfields of political science at the introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels. We coordinate our offerings with those at Bryn Mawr in order to provide a wide range of subjects.
Courses fall into the following five subfields:
- American Politics (A): major institutions; bureaucracy; discrimination; urban politics and urban policy; and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in relation to American politics.
- Comparative Politics (C): politics and governments throughout the world; women and politics; comparative political economy; human rights; civil war and revolution; and transitions to democracy.
- International Relations (I): international political economy and international security; the state system; international organizations; causes of war, terrorism, peace-building, and reconciliation; and American foreign policy.
- Globalization and Global Governance (G): cosmopolitan theory; democracy and global governance; capitalism and its critics; global economy; global civil society and global justice movements.
- Political Theory (T): justice, equality, and liberty; power, authority, and order; democratic theory; American political thought; feminist theory; and politics and culture.
- Two of the following 100-level courses to enter the major: POLS H121, POLS H131, POLS H151, POLS H161, and POLS H171. These courses must represent two different subfields.
- Six elective courses taken above the 100 level. No more than four of the elective courses for the major may come from institutions outside of the Tri-Co.
- A 300-level research seminar, taken in the department during the fall semester of the senior year. (This is in addition to the six elective courses described above.)
- A combination of introductory and elective courses that includes representation of three of the five subfields, with work at the intermediate or advanced level in at least two subfields.
- Students may count some courses in either of the two subfields but not in both.
- With the consent of a member of the department, students may substitute two or three intermediate- or advanced-level courses from another department for the third subfield, where this serves to complement and strengthen the student’s work within the department. For example, a student concentrating in international politics might offer international economics courses as a subfield; a student in comparative politics might offer courses in an area study; a student in political theory might offer social and political philosophy courses; or a student in American politics might offer social policy courses. Students can count such substitutions towards fulfilling the subfield requirement only. They cannot count these towards political science course credit and cannot use them to fulfill the introductory, elective, and seminar requirements outlined above.
- All senior majors write a thesis and complete an oral defense of the thesis through enrollment in POLS H400.
- Four courses outside political science at Haverford or Bryn Mawr College that relate to the major. Examples of possible interests around which courses could cluster are: American or other area studies; political and social theory; international affairs; environmental policies; urban affairs; intermediate and advanced foreign language work related to work in the major; or courses from one or more of the other social sciences.
The senior thesis represents the capstone of the political science major. It is a year-long independent research project designed and implemented by each senior political science major with the guidance and support of an assigned thesis advisor. Students receive one credit for an advanced-level seminar in the fall semester of their senior year. With few exceptions, this seminar is taken with the student’s thesis advisor. During the fall semester seminar students select a research topic, formulate a research question, begin acquiring conceptual and theoretical sophistication through a comprehensive review of the relevant scholarly literature, and prepare a thesis proposal or research design. This proposal will guide each student’s original research during the spring semester. Near the end of the fall semester seniors submit their thesis proposals to all members of the department and present their thesis proposals before the department faculty and fellow students. These proposal defenses are intended to provide students with useful critical feedback during the fall semester when there is still time to make major adjustments to the project if necessary. They are also intended to build an esprit de corps among majors while giving them valuable experience with oral presentation and public accountability.
In the spring semester students register for POLS H400, a supervised research and writing course. During this semester, students conduct independent research and write up their findings with the guidance and feedback of their advisor. Throughout the spring semester students meet regularly with their thesis advisor and submit drafts of thesis chapters to their advisor. After students submit their final written theses in April, they are required to give a 30-minute oral defense of their theses to their advisor and at least one other political science faculty member in early May.
Senior Project Learning Goals
The goal of the thesis is to promote the ongoing acquisition of research and analytical skills, as well as the ability to carry out extensive projects independently and consistent with the highest standards of excellence. Most students writing a thesis will identify an interesting and important research question, explore how other scholars have attempted to address that question, and devise a viable research plan. Students who choose to concentrate in political theory pursue normative research and focus on interpretation and analysis of philosophical texts. Students are expected to conduct their own research, often using both primary and secondary sources, and to evaluate how their findings relate to existing scholarship in the field.
Senior Project Assessment
Students are assessed based upon their proposal, their written thesis, their oral defense, and their performance throughout the thesis process. They are evaluated according to several criteria, including:
- their conceptualization of a research question.
- their ability to effectively and concisely present their argument and findings.
- their ability to draw conclusions and extensions of their research to broader arenas.
- their engagement with secondary material and use of primary sources.
- their ability to identify, critique, develop, and apply core concepts and theories.
- their ability to obtain a basic understanding of research methodologies.
- their ability to comprehend and respond to questioning.
- the quality and organization of their writing.
- the timely submission of work and responsiveness to feedback.
- the originality of their ideas and the ambition of their project.
- the breadth of their knowledge related to their thesis topic.
- the depth of their knowledge related to their thesis topic.
- their comprehension of the scope and limitations of their own research.
During the fall semester, students receive feedback from their professor and their peers on various assignments that often include a combination of the following: thesis proposal, annotated bibliography and literature review. The presentation of the thesis proposal in the fall semester is an opportunity for members in the department other than the advisor to weigh in on and evaluate a student’s progress. The feedback received in the fall from fellow students and the department faculty at the thesis proposal defense is beneficial for students as they move ahead with their projects in the spring.
Throughout the spring semester students receive feedback from their thesis advisor through regular meetings and comments on thesis drafts. The schedule for the submission of drafts and individual meetings in the spring semester is determined by the student and his/her advisor. Prior to the oral defense of the thesis in May each student submits a thesis abstract. This abstract is an important element of the defense in that it is designed to serve as a succinct overview of the thesis argument and methodology. The defense is attended by the student, the thesis advisor, and one other member of the department faculty. After the defense, the two faculty members discuss the student’s project and overall performance. Ultimate responsibility for grading of the thesis (POLS H400) belongs to the supervising faculty member.
Requirements for Honors
The department awards honors to senior majors who have demonstrated excellence in their coursework in political science and their senior thesis. The department may grant high honors to a select number of senior majors who have attained an outstanding level of distinction in their political science courses and senior thesis.
Concentrations and Interdisciplinary Minors
The department contributes to multiple concentrations, including those in Peace, Justice, and Human Rights; Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies; African and Africana Studies; Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Studies; and Gender and Sexuality Studies.
The department encourages students to spend a semester or a year studying abroad. Credit for courses taken abroad will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Students will need to provide documentation about the content (e.g., syllabi, papers, and exams) of courses taken abroad.
No more than two study-abroad courses per semester (four courses per year) can be counted towards the political science major.
Research and Fieldwork
Faculty have conducted research in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, and students have had opportunities to assist faculty members with field research in places like Guatemala and Mali. The department encourages students to supplement their classroom work by studying abroad or applying for a grant from the College’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (https://www.haverford.edu/cpgc) to undertake internships in other countries.
The department awards up to five prizes annually:
The Emerson L. Darnell 1940 Prize Fund: Named in honor of Emerson Darnell, a Quaker alumnus who dedicated his life’s work to advocating peaceful social change and defending the civil rights of the individual. The prize is awarded annually to the student who presents the best paper demonstrating an appreciation of the Bill of Rights as the foundation of American law and the very fabric of American society.
The Harold P. Kurzman Prize: Awarded for the senior who has performed the best and most creatively in political science course work.
The Stephen H. Miller Memorial Award: Presented in honor of Stephen H. Miller ‘62, who lost his life while serving his country and his fellow man in South Vietnam while taking part in village development as a member of the United States Information Agency. This award is presented to the graduating senior in political science who best exemplifies the ideal of political involvement and social service expressed in Miller’s life and career.
The Herman M. Somers Prize in Political Science: Given in recognition of the research and teaching of Red Somers. Awarded to the graduating senior(s) who presents the best senior project that reflects the interest in policy, respect for evidence, and the humane concern for improving society that characterized Somers’ work.
The Harvey Glickman Prize: Awarded to the graduating senior in Political Science whose senior thesis displays the greatest innovation in pushing the theoretical boundaries of the discipline and its subfields.