People become interested in the study of politics in response to an unacknowledged fantasy: they see themselves as occupying seats of power. There have always been rulers and ruled, and the former radiate glamour as they inspire fear, resentment, hope, and admiration … It is therefore not at all surprising that so many of us are fascinated by the ways in which power is exercised, lost, and gained.

This was an introduction to the study of government written by the late Judith Shklar. Her words are important because they remind us that however scholarly, critical, and methodologically sophisticated our study of politics becomes, it is inspired by a fascination with politics—with awe for the creative possibilities of political power and sympathy for its many victims.

Politics encompasses many things, from the institutional workings of governments to war and revolution, from the organization of parties and elections to the public policy of welfare or education. Politics is not everything, but everything personal and social may ultimately be political.

The Department of Government is an umbrella for a remarkable range of political subjects and approaches to studying them. The department is an umbrella, in part, because political science is not a unified discipline. It stands at the cross-roads of history, law, economics, sociology, philosophy, and ethics. It borrows from these disciplines and constructs theories and methods of its own. Government department faculty teach about China and statistical methods, civic virtue (and corruption), and the logic of congressional committee structures. Like our students, our research is inspired by many things: by the personal experience of participation, by moral outrage, by commitment to exploring a political problem or by fascination with a model for explaining, measuring, or predicting political outcomes.

Against this background, a secondary field in Government is not one single thing. We encourage students with either specific or eclectic political interests to explore our courses and faculty. There are good reasons to range across areas, institutions, ages, and countries. For students with a focused interest, it may be best to assemble courses that cohere around a single subject or approach. For some students that may mean taking all their courses in a single subfield, such as American politics. Others with a focused interest may construct a program that includes courses from several subfields that are united by subject: perhaps Africa, or international political economy, or political ethics.

Requirements: 5 half-courses

  1. Students must take five courses in the government department for a letter grade and pass them with a grade of B- or better. Students may count one Freshman Seminar (with grade of SAT) taught by a department faculty member as one of these five courses.

  2. No more than two introductory courses (Gov 10, 20, 30, and HS A-12) will be counted toward a secondary field; three courses must be 90 or 1000 level or above.

Other Information

The five courses may include graduate courses taught by government department faculty with the permission of the instructor.

Outside courses (Freshman Seminars, House Seminars, Core courses, General Education courses, courses cross-listed with another department or Harvard school, and Social Studies tutorials) will count ONLY if they are taught by government department faculty.

Courses taken abroad will not be counted towards a secondary field.

Courses taken in Harvard Summer School will not be counted towards a secondary field, with the exception of the four introductory courses: Gov S-10, S-20, S-30, and S-40.

Students are not required to take a sophomore or junior tutorial. They may enroll in a tutorial if space permits; concentrators have priority.

Please note that these requirements differ from those for Government concentrators.

The government department has five official subfields: American politics, international relations, comparative politics, political theory, and political methodology and formal theory. Students taking Government as a secondary field are not required to fulfill a distribution requirement, but they may wish to focus their interests in one area or another. Models of study for the secondary field are available on the department website.

Advising Resources and Expectations

Students interested in pursuing a secondary field in Government or those who have any questions or concerns regarding the secondary field should contact the government department undergraduate program office (; 617-495-3249). The office, located at CGIS Knafel Building, Room N151, 1737 Cambridge St, is open M-F, 9:30-5:30.