Our centre is named after Michael Nicholson (1933-2001) who was a pioneer in formal and quantitative analysis of conflict and cooperation when this type of research was uncommon and often controversial among British scholars. We have named our Centre after him to honour his legacy and to indicate our similar research orientation.
In the late 1960s the University of Essex sought to establish itself as a centre for systematic research in Political Science, but lacked competence in international relations. The University did not want to recruit a traditional British scholar, but rather someone who could teach international relations in a manner more in line with the social scientific approach to the study of political behaviour and parties that the University was known from. At the time, Michael Nicholson was one of very few UK-based scholar interested in this line of research, and he accepted to teach a course on international relations between 1970 and 1975. At the present, Essex has a large research group working on conflict and cooperation, and the social scientific approach advocated by Nicholson has become much more common in the UK.
Nicholson was trained as an economist, but developed at an early stage an interest in how mathematical models could be applied to conflict. Nicholson advocated the need for a social scientific approach, identifying decision-makers and their objectives, and trying to understand the specific circumstances when their interactions make conflict and cooperative outcomes more or less likely. Since propositions about conflict situations are often probabilistic, we need systematic data to evaluate these. Nicholson was a strong critic of the traditionalism that dominated many British institutions, which typically eschews the value of theoretical formalization and systematic evaluation or data collection.
Nicholson published a number of important books and scholarly articles, including a 1992 monograph on Rationality in International Relations (Cambridge University Press) and 2002 text book (International Relations: A Concise Introduction, Palgrave). He was awarded the Lewis Fry Richardson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001, in explicit recognition of his work on the systematic analysis of conflict.
Nicholson held full time academic appointments at University College London, the Richardson Institute for Conflict and Peace Research, the University of Kent, and Sussex University. He also taught part time at the University of Essex between 1970 and 1975.