Department History

Government and Foreign Affairs Students and Professors in 1964

The current Department of Politics at the University of Virginia has a fascinating history.  The original School of Political Science was founded in the early 1920s and it consisted of three faculty, Robert Kent Gooch, James Hart, and George Spicer.  Expanding to eight faculty by 1950, the School offered thirty-five courses primarily in American politics and the law, international relations, comparative government, and political theory.  In 1946, the University established the Woodrow Wilson School of Foreign Affairs.  Wilson attended the University’s law school in 1879 and authored the Fourteen Points following World War I.  Established immediately following World War II, the School accommodated the educational demands of returning veterans for training in world affairs, international relations, and area studies.  The School specialized in graduate training for future government officials in foreign policy.

In 1964, the University merged the School of Political Science and the Wilson School into the Department of Government and Foreign Affairs.  The Department expanded its training for future government officials by establishing the Masters in Public Affairs degree for students seeking a professional education in public administration and public policy.  Reflecting this origin, the Department offered separate undergraduate degrees in Government and in Foreign Affairs, a practice that continues today.  In combination, these two degree programs are among the largest undergraduate majors in the College of Arts and Sciences.  In recent years, the Department focused its efforts on becoming a first-class academic political science department and less on offering professional training.  In the 1990s, the Department ended its graduate Public Affairs program, and it reduced the size of its Masters degree program in order to direct the Department’s academic education of its doctoral students.  In 2002, the Department elected to change its name to the Department of Politics to reflect the faculty’s commitment to integrating the four main political science subfields of American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory.

Matthew Holden, Jr.
Matthew Holden, Jr., c. 1986

The Department’s distinguished faculty have included Henry Abraham, Martha Derthick, Inis Claude, Frederick Mosher, David Newsom, R.K. “Ruhi” Ramazani, Shao-Chuan “Tony” Leng, David O’Brien, Kenneth Thompson, and Quincy Wright.  Our colleague Matthew Holden, Jr. served as president of the American Political Science Association in 1998-1999.

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