Of all the social sciences, political science has perhaps the least definite boundaries and the most adventurous border crossers. Because it concerns itself with power in all of its many forms and consequences, political science covers many different subjects. These include the philosophy and ethics of exercising power and the history of political ideas (political theory); the operation and distinctiveness of politics in the United States (American politics); the diversity of political regimes, institutions, and behaviors in the contemporary world and the significance of these divergences (comparative politics); the interaction among international actors, the causes of war and peace, and the roots of global poverty and prosperity (international relations). Political scientists work in and across these disciplinary subfields using a large and varied tool kit: qualitative methods such as historical and archival research, fieldwork, interviews, and textual analysis; and various quantitative methods such as statistical analysis, formal modeling, and experiments. Some departments of political science specialize in a particular subfield or methodology. The Harvard Government Department, however, prides itself on its comprehensiveness, diversity, and vibrant pluralism and has strength in all areas of the discipline. Department Website
The department understands that undergraduates concentrate in Government for many reasons: some with scholarly intent, some with a passion for policy, some with an eye to a political career, and many just wishing to know more about this inescapable human concern. Nevertheless, we have common goals for all concentrators. First, we aim to make all students aware and critical of their first opinions (since human beings are at their most opinionated in politics). Government students learn to analyze, argue, and persuade: out loud and on paper. This begins in sophomore tutorial, which is focused on debates over democracy. Second, we try to assure that concentrators grasp the main approaches and topics in the discipline of political science by requiring a “literacy” course in political science methods and at least one course in every subfield. Finally, we offer each student the possibility of satisfying his or her particular intellectual bent and curiosity through a cluster of electives and a required seminar. You have the freedom to choose your particular path through the Government curriculum, but we work closely with you to assure your choices are thoughtful and informed.