The Department of International Politics was founded in 1919, with the help of a generous endowment of £20,000 given by David Davies, as a memorial to the students killed and wounded in the First World War. Davies was moved by a global vision, forged in the fires of war, aimed at repairing the shattered family of nations and, more ambitiously, to redeem the claims of men and women in a great global commonwealth—the League of Nations. This vision found concrete expression in the world’s first chair in international politics, also located in Aberystwyth and named in honour of the American president Woodrow Wilson, the man whose name is synonymous with the creation of a League of Nations for the maintenance of international justice and the preservation of peace. Davies himself believed that the problem of the twentieth century resolved itself in the ‘eternal quest of justice’, the conditions of which were the foundation of a lasting security, a lasting prosperity, and a lasting peace.
The world has of course changed since 1919, and the Department has changed with it, winning acclaim and courting controversy along the way. The first Woodrow Wilson professor, Sir Alfred Zimmern, was among the first of his generation to identify the importance of personal contacts and grass-roots democracy, facilitated by global civil society, in furthering understanding among nations. But the ideas advanced by Zimmern, the most highly regarded of the inter-war idealists, were subjected to a searching challenge issued by E.H. Carr, the fourth and the most celebrated yet of the Woodrow Wilson professors. Carr’s ‘realism’, articulated in one of the discipline’s classic books, The Twenty Year’s Crisis, heaped scorn on liberal ‘utopianism’ in stressing the paramount importance of power, so much so that it was at odds with Davies’ original vision for the chair.
The Department survived this tension and continued to flourish in the very different circumstances of the Cold War standoff between East and West. In one of several important milestones the Department awarded it first PhD in 1956 to a woman, Elizabeth Joan Parr, at a time when the study of international relations was dominated almost exclusively by men. It continued to set the pace in a fast changing discipline when in 1962 it appointed John Garnett as the UK’s first lecturer in ‘strategic studies’, the most important sub-field dealing with the implications of the nuclear revolution in world affairs. And in 1969 the Department marked its 50th anniversary with a landmark conference, attended by luminaries of the discipline, including Sir Herbert Butterfield, Sir Harry Hinsley, Hans J. Morgenthau, EH Carr, and Charles Manning, which resulted in the publication of another classic text: The Aberystwyth Papers.
The end of the Cold War saw another major turn; this time with the Department at the forefront of debates concerning critical approaches to international relations and ethical foreign policy. The Department, led by Steve Smith, was at the vanguard in developing post-positivist approaches to international relations, not the least of which is the 75th anniversary conference that resulted in the publication of yet another major work: International Theory: Positivism and Beyond. Ken Booth, the first EH Carr professor, pioneered critical security studies, an approach that links security with human emancipation. No less important was the Department’s major contribution to the study of human rights and humanitarian intervention, which were fuelled by growing demands for an ethical approach to foreign policy.
With the turn of the millennium the Department continues to respond to a rapidly changing world with a collective sense of imagination that breaks the mould of tradition. The Department has built upon its reputation as the UK’s leading centre of excellence in theoretical explorations of international relations, with major contributions being made in the areas of Critical Theory, English School/international society, post-structuralism, historical sociology, and normative approaches to international relations. In another breakthrough the Department appointed the UK’s first lecturer in the sub-field of intelligence studies, which has grown into the very successful Centre for Intelligence and International Security Studies. The Institute for Welsh Politics has decisively shaped public debate in post-devolution Wales. And in 2007 the first UNESCO Chair in Wales was established for the study of global health, especially HIV/AIDS, and foreign and security policy.
In 2002 the Davies legacy was consolidated with the relocation of the David Davies Memorial Institute (DDMI) to Aberystwyth, from its London base, to become one of the Department’s engines of research, led by the Institute’s flagship journal, International Relations, which joins the growing stable of journals edited in the Department. It is in the spirit of this legacy that the Department of International Politics continues to push the boundaries of the discipline by posing difficult questions that define the problems of the twenty-first century. But through it all, the Department remains true to the ideals in terms of which it was founded: to strive for a safe and more just world order.