Since opening in 1964, the University of Essex has been at the leading edge
of political science through a commitment to excellence in research and
Topping all previous six Research Excellence Frameworks, we can rightly claim
to be the intellectual home to a significant proportion of the UK’s leading
researchers. Four of our 30 full-time members are Fellows of the British Academy
- the highest proportion of any department across the UK.
Our research and our
teaching focus on the following areas:
Understanding global challenges
Our Department contributes to the understanding of current global challenges
from empirical, analytical, and normative perspectives. Our
academic staff provide policy advice to democratic governments,
international governmental and non-governmental organisations, and
democratisation movements all around the world. We are actively involved in
election monitoring, conflict resolution, and we give strategic recommendations
to parties, interest groups and business corporations.
Hear from the Speaker
Rt Hon Dr John Bercow MP, Essex graduate and Speaker of the House of Commons
from University of Essex on
"The standard of work produced, the quality of the feedback and the innovative
teaching approaches are outstanding. The University of Essex not only excels at
research, it excels at teaching and yet again provides the benchmark against
which other departments struggle to match."
Graeme Davies, University of Leeds
Key points in our history
Over its 50 year existence our Department has never been committed to any
one orthodoxy or approach to political science, but instead to dialogue
between them and research excellence, whichever approach has been adopted.
This has been important in maintaining our flexibility and international
success, and taking the lead in wider institution-building.
1963: First Professor of Government appointed
Albert Sloman, Essex's founding
Vice-Chancellor, appoints Jean Blondel as the first Professor of
Sloman was the maverick among the ten new universities created in Britain
at that time, in terms of not replicating the old models but aiming at a
research-oriented institution with only ten, specialised large departments.
To ensure excellence at the University, it had a tenure requirement for
junior staff. Teaching was organised in cross-Departmental schools which,
together with a compact campus, brought otherwise disparate specialists
together, such as politics.
This was a radical approach as there were only 15 politics departments in
Britain in 1960, mostly with four or five lecturers and one professor as
Head of Department. Such Departments focused on teaching undergraduates the
history of political thought and British politics. There was little contact
between them – even less abroad. Recruitment was mainly from their own First
Class graduates, who could then stay on for life.
Sloman broke the mould by gambling on Blondel, who in turn had rebelled
against French academic tradition by doing his thesis on and in Brazil and
then going to a postgraduate fellowship in Britain. Having also spent a year
in the USA his ideal was to create a large department on the North American
model. A freewheeling appointments policy brought in unsuitable staff, but
also senior figures who shared his broad ideals and worked to effect them;
in the first place by applying tenure to create a more professional and
1965: MA courses and PhD supervision introduced
Organised graduate instruction, unheard of in Britain, was suddenly
supported by the new Social Science Research Council with student bursaries.
Totally unprepared, Blondel recruited 12 candidates from anywhere he could.
Most failed at the end of the year but the bursaries continued. This
supported the re-organisation and expansion of the MAs to 70 students by the
end of the 1970s.
In addition, PhD supervision was also collectivised and organised.
Methodological teaching and research was also supported by a home produced
computer package (ECXP) as a result of heavy pressure on the computing
1969: Inaugural Summer School in Quantitative Social
Science Data Methods
A UNESCO grant helped fund the first Summer School which was attended by
25 students from across Europe. The Summer School fed into graduate courses
and showed that Europeans could develop collective enterprises on a
continent-wide basis. From 1970 funding was found to make this an annual
event, now known as the Essex Summer School in
Social Science Data Analysis.
1970: European Consortium for Political Research
By the end of the decade, with its headquarters at Essex and Jean Blondel
as its first Director, the European Consortium for Political Research
brought together 200 institutions across Europe to sponsor joint annual
sessions of workshops, the Summer School and numerous other activities.
From an Essex point of view, there were now collaborators and networks
across Europe with which comparative research could be pursued.
1970: British Journal of Political Science
Edited from Essex, this research journal rapidly became comparable with
leading American journals in terms of coverage. Today, the British Journal
of Political Science is widely considered to be one of the leading general
political science journals.
1970s: Emergence of a professional and dynamic
From these formative years the Department emerged fully professionalised
and dynamic. Its most important inheritance was probably a collectivist
ethos geared to achieving its vision and keeping its various activities
going. Blondel consulted everybody all the time, collectively and
individually, about what was to be done.
The awareness of common departmental concerns and of taking collective
action to achieve them has persisted to this day, and is particularly
evident in responding to emergent crises. Collectivism is bolstered by
participation in the weekly departmental seminars and the dinner associated
with it, which have provided an effective way of assimilating newcomers into
the shared departmental ethos.
The first Department of Government was purged and reformed in the late
1960s. The second, more professional, Department consolidated itself during
the 1970s. Few new initiatives were undertaken but existing activities were
The Department’s standing as one of the University’s largest and most
successful buttressed it against various crises and their consequences –
notably student demonstrations and revolts in the early 1970s and the
subsequent financial crisis resulting from these.
1980s: Time of transition
At the beginning of the eighties the recruitment of new and strong
personalities onto the Department staff, together with the departure of the
mathematical political analysts marked this as a time of transition for the
Department, which heavily focused on post-Marxist linguistic analyses and
institutional studies of British politics. However, more traditional
concerns with quantitative and comparative analyses did continue to
The Department has always been characterised by change. The major
personalities of the 1970s continued with their projects, notably the
British Election Study and the Manifesto Research Group, collecting and
analysing data from 25 post-war democracies.
1980-90s: Emergence of new Department
At the end of the 1980s three prominent personalities left
simultaneously. As department standing is as much a matter of reputation as
achievement, the senior group initiated a head-hunting policy of identifying
and attracting desirable recruits, particularly to senior posts, which has
With the arrival of three notable staff members and more during the
following decade, the Department emerged with a renewed focus on
quantitative research and political sociology. The British Election Study
was brought back to cover 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010.
Publications notably increased, with a series of text books on European
and British politics associated with the Department. Various predictive
models of elections (the Essex models) were widely quoted and cited in the
British media. Meanwhile the Summer School and ECPR expanded their
2000s: Arrival of international staff members
Various University changes, general aging and other causes again resulted
in an exodus of staff in the mid-2000s. Changes in almost a quarter of the
personnel produced new orientations in both teaching and research. Area
specialisations in Russia, Latin America and North America which had been a
major feature of Essex courses for 40 years completely disappeared.
Commitments to methodology – particularly associated with the Summer
School, whose participation exploded in the second half of the 2000s and,
comparative and international political economy, rational choice, and
systematic political theory – were gradually strengthened. The new
Department members came either from the USA, or (often after American
training) from continental Europe. The Department of Government has perhaps
always been the most 'Americanized' political science department in Europe.
The interests and the new orientations new members of staff have generated a
new identity for the Department.
The presence and activities of the older and newer members of the
Department has facilitated evolution rather than revolution. Rational choice
models and quantitative explanation of political phenomena have after all
been a central focus of departmental concern from around 1970. The major
focus remains on theory driven data analysis, with both theory testing and
data generation given their place. We can expect that when the next identity
of our Department emerges, it will have the same general orientation towards
specialised research applications.
2013: Regius Professorship awarded