University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Chair's Welcome

We are a comprehensive department at a Public Research University housing two closely related undergraduate majors – Political Science, which is anchored in one social science discipline containing many distinct intellectual traditions, and Legal Studies, which is an explicitly interdisciplinary program drawing on insights from intellectual traditions in several disciplines to understand the dynamic relations among law, politics, and society. The Legal Studies major is one of the oldest undergraduate programs in the country; the Political Science major is distinct because the faculty study and teach about politics by asking questions that involve working at the intersections of the traditional subfields of Political Philosophy, American Politics, Comparative Politics, and International Relations. The work of our distinguished and diverse faculty is rigorous, methodologically diverse, grounded in theory, and global in reach.  On campus, they share their insights through classes, talks to student and alumni groups, and research workshops. Their work, which they present in academic and public forums and publications investigates many questions, including protest and dissent, international migration, education politics and policy, international human rights, comparative democratization, political psychology, and the language of politics.

What does this mean for you? If you are an undergraduate Political Science student, it means experiencing a curriculum focused on political issues and problems providing you with perspectives, concepts, and theories that will help you make sense of a complex political world.  In addition to broad introductory courses in the traditional fields of Political Thought, Comparative Politics, American Politics, and World Politics, the faculty teach courses that reach across the subfield boundaries like “Race and Politics,” “The Politics of Food,” “Power and Participation,” “Politics Now,” “Democracy and Justice,” “Globalization, Governance, and World Order,” and “Immigration and Politics.” If you are a Legal Studies student, it means studying at the only university in New England that offers a legal studies major providing you with an education in how law functions to help hold communities together, distinct from the education preparing students for a career as a lawyer that students receive in law school. You will have the opportunity to learn from courses including “Human Rights and Wrongs,” “Modern Political Trials,” “Alternative Dispute Resolution,” “Death Penalty in America,” “Law and Literature,” and “Environmental Justice.”

While many of our introductory political science and legal studies courses are large, we cap most of our upper-level courses at about 30 students to ensure smaller classes, more interactive learning, and an integrative learning experience. Students in both majors also have opportunities to help advance cutting edge research outside the classroom with some of the most prominent scholars in the discipline. Many of our undergraduates have the opportunity to assist faculty on their research projects through our Undergraduate Research Experience Program, an experience that provides students with the skills to excel on the job market or go on to graduate school at the most prestigious universities in the country and world.  Political science majors may further bolster their education and credentials by taking advantage of our Accelerated MA Program.

Our graduate program in Political Science is strong in all the major subfields; what sets us apart is our cross-subdisciplinary approach to political science and our pursuit of knowledge using a diverse set of methodological approaches. Our faculty cluster around broad themes that cross traditional subfield boundaries, such as Ambiguities of Democracy, Language and Politics, and the Politics of Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration. We address these themes with a wide array of approaches; the faculty includes nationally and internationally recognized experts in interpretive methods, qualitative and historical inquiry, quantitative analysis, computational social science, and survey research. If you are in search of a program that will empower you to address important questions with a diverse array of tools, you would be hard-pressed to find a better place to study.  

We do all of this in the beautiful Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. The Five-College area (which includes Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, and Smith Colleges, in addition to UMass) provides abundant intellectual opportunities, and Amherst is often mentioned as one of the country’s best college towns.  Though rural in character, those wanting or needing some urban experience will be happy to know that Amherst is just two hours from Boston and a bit more than three hours from New York City.

Take a look around our website; better yet, visit us in Amherst. You’ll find a distinctive department and an exciting intellectual environment.

MJ Peterson
Department Chair