Oxford Politics' origins

The study of politics, government and international relations at Oxford has a long and distinguished history.

In 1909 the study of government was institutionalised in Oxford with a lectureship in Political Theory and Institutions. This was upped to be 'Chichele Reader in Political Theory and Institutions' in the same year and then upped again to form the Gladstone Chair of Political Theory and Institutions in 1912. Nearly two decades later, International Relations developed as an autonomous field of study with the establishment of the Montague Burton Chair of International Relations in 1930. 

In 1933 a sub-faculty for Politics was set up and, ten years later, the Chichele Chair in Social and Political Theory was established.

Two new Colleges specialising in Social Sciences and global issues—Nuffield College and St Anthony's College respectively—welcomed graduate students in the ensuing years, further enriching the academic community in Politics and International Relations.

  • Key dates*
    • 1910: First faculty appointment in ‘Political Science’ (later ‘Political Theory and Institutions’)
    • 1917: Doctoral (DPhil) degree established
    • 1920: PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics) degree established; degree regulations amended to allow women to take degrees
    • 1930: First specialist college tutor in Politics appointed; first Professor of International Relations appointed
    • 1934: Sub-faculty of Politics established within the Social Studies Faculty
    • 1937: Foundation of Nuffield College, the university’s first graduate and mixed-sex college (the first students did not arrive until 1945)
    • 1948: First female ‘statutory professor’ appointed; postgraduate taught course degree established (BPhil, later renamed MPhil)
    • 1950: Foundation of St Antony’s College, the second graduate college
    • 1968: Language paper dropped from first year of PPE
    • 1970: Bipartite Option in PPE introduced
    • 1974: Thesis option introduced in PPE
    • 1992: The Oxford Centre for International Studies was founded and ran until 2022
    • 2000: Department of Politics and International Relations established
    • 2010: Blavatnik School of Government established
    • 2015: The Centre for Technology and Global Affairs was founded and ran until 2019
    • 2022: Two new hubs were funded, the Oxford Constitutional Studies Forum and the Oxford Centre for the Study of Social Justice.

    *A full list of key dates in the development of Political Science at Oxford can be found in the introduction of Forging a Discipline: A Critical Assessment of Oxford's Development of the Study of Politics and International Relations in Comparative Perspective by Christopher Hood, Desmond King, and Gillian Peele.

One hundred years of PPE

Oxford was at the forefront of laying the foundations for the inception of the disciplines of political science, history and philosophy in the UK.

In 1920 Oxford founded its Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) Bachelors course—the first of its kind in the world. 

Alexander Dunlop Lindsay, Jowett Lecturer in Philosophy at Balliol (from 1910) and Master (1924-1949), was responsible for proposing this new tripartite school of 'Modern Greats'.

Lindsay built upon the educational culture which Jowett shaped at Balliol to create an institution (PPE) based on the idea that higher education consists not in reinforcing our own biased opinions, but in studying among others unlike ourselves and learning to negotiate diverse ideas within a pluralistic society.

A home for Oxford Politics

In 2000 the Department of Politics and International Relations was established.

DPIR's previous Heads of Department have included: Neil MacFarlane (2005-2010), Stephen Whitefield (2010-2014), Elizabeth Frazer (2014-2017), and Louise Fawcett (2017-2020).

In 2020 Nicholas Owen and Petra Schleiter were elected Joint Heads of Department.