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Although the department does not require a concentrator to declare any particular subfield as an area of specialization, students often focus on a specific field in their course selection guided by their individual intellectual bent and curiosity. For honors candidates this informal specialization may help to bring a focus to the senior thesis project. Because political science cannot be ordered in a system of prerequisites from easy courses to difficult ones, the appropriate choice of courses is a challenge. Students must take care to choose with a pattern of exploration and development in mind and to avoid scattering their interests. For advice on course selection, students should contact the director of undergraduate studies and Government concentration advisers in the Houses. They should also be sure to consult .

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Additional Government Courses/Related Field Option: Three half-courses. These three additional half-courses may all be taken in the government department. Alternatively, a student may take up to three half-courses in the following related fields: economics, history, sociology, philosophy, languages, or quantitative methods.

Note that not all courses in these disciplines qualify. A current list of courses that count for related field credit is available at the Undergraduate Program Office, or on .

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Consequently, political science covers many different subjects, uses several diverse methods, and appeals to a variety of students. The department is divided into four subfields: political theory, American politics, comparative government, and international relations. These fields cover “area studies” of the former Soviet Union and China, political development, voting behavior in American elections, forms of regimes, urban politics, strategy, and the presidency, among many other subjects. The methods used are borrowed from history, sociology, philosophy, economics, and psychology—and then refashioned and put to work in a discipline that includes them all. Political scientists may ponder old philosophical texts or gather data from a current opinion survey. They may form inductive generalizations or construct formal deductive models. They may call themselves institutionalist, behavioralist, or anti-, proto-, or postbehavioralist, or by some other name, or by none.

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The Department of Government was founded and named by President A. Lawrence Lowell in 1910, but the field of political science is much older. It is by far the oldest of the social sciences and was invented when Socrates, it was said, first called philosophy down from heaven and placed her in cities.

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Students come to political science because they are interested in politics: some of them with an eye to a political career, some with a scholarly intent, and many wishing to know more about this central, inescapable human concern. The Government Department aims to make all students aware and critical of their first opinions (since human beings are at their most opinionated in politics), to open up the possibilities of politics, to reveal permanent political problems, to impart a discipline, and to supply a guide for choice. Some people think that political science comes out of the daily newspaper. But they are wrong. Since most citizens have their judgments influenced by others, one should say rather that political science goes into the newspaper; and it is the virtue of political scientists, not their defect, that they do not see differently from citizens, but farther and maybe sooner.