Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Watson Institute History

The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs began as a vision to fulfill two parallel missions: to bring international perspective into the life of the University, and to promote peace through international relations research and policy. Founded in the final moments of the Cold War, the Institute has evolved in a rapidly globalizing world. Its core mission, however, has always been aligned with what it is today: to promote a just and peaceful world through research, teaching, and public engagement. Below are milestones in the history of the Watson Institute.


Lacking a mechanism for linking and coordinating the various elements that constitute international studies on campus, the University launches the Council for International Studies (CFIS) to fulfill this need. The CFIS is intended to coordinate faculty and academic units working on international studies. Brown President Howard Swearer asks Newell Stultz, professor of political science, to become its first (and, ultimately, only) director.


Thomas J. Watson Jr., ambassador to the Soviet Union (and a 1937 graduate of Brown University), invites President Swearer, a specialist on Soviet politics, to come to Moscow to discuss the creation of a “think tank” at Brown, where scholars and practitioners could work together on nuclear strategy and US-Soviet relations and develop policy proposals for dealing with them.


Mark Garrison, Watson’s deputy in Moscow, is invited to Brown to become the first appointed fellow of the Council for International Studies and the founding director of the Center for Foreign Policy Development. Its focus is US-Soviet nuclear weapons issues and East-West security issues generally.


The Center for Foreign Policy Development acquires formal status at Brown when it is incorporated as an independent non-profit research organization. Watson is named chair of the board; Swearer and Garrison are members.


The Center for Foreign Policy Development (CFPD), the Council for International Studies, and Brown’s foreign study office move into 2 Stimson Avenue, which becomes the first University building wholly dedicated to international studies.

Professor of History Abbott Gleason returns from Washington, where he had been serving as Secretary of the Kennan Institute at the Smithsonian. Gleason and Garrison co-edit a book, Shared Destiny: Fifty Years of Soviet-American Relations, based on a lecture series sponsored by the CFPD and the World Affairs Council of Rhode Island.

Richard Smoke, co-founder and former executive director of the Center for Peace and Common Security, and Jan Kalicki, former senior foreign policy advisor to Senator Edward Kennedy and former investment banker, join the CFPD as research director and executive director, respectively.


The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) is established. 


In a memo outlining “next steps” for enhancing international studies at Brown, President Swearer proposes the creation of a broad-based institute to draw together many of the international studies programs in a “collaborative, reasoned, and reinforcing manner.” The proposal is approved by the Corporation in May. President Swearer announces the creation of the Institute for International Studies at Brown’s Opening Convocation in September.

P. Terrence Hopmann comes to Brown from the University of Minnesota to direct the International Relations (IR) concentration program.


The Institute for International Studies is formally inaugurated. Speakers at the ceremony marking this event include former US Senator J. William Fulbright, President Jimmy Carter, and former secretary of state Cyrus Vance.

The focus of the Institute is to be “teaching and research concerned with international relations and foreign cultures … through centers and programs which draw faculty and students from all parts of the University, as well as visiting scholars and guests who participate in and advance the Institute’s objectives.” Howard Swearer, still president of Brown, is director. The Council for International Studies is folded into the new Institute.


The Choices for the 21st Century program is established as a project of the CFPD. Choices combines the scholarly resources of the University with the pedagogical expertise of classroom educators to research and write curricula for high school students on a range of foreign policy issues. Its goal is to raise public interest in foreign policy issues, improve participatory citizenship skills, and encourage public judgment on policy priorities. Susan Graseck, who has a background in education and foundation work, is its director.


Swearer steps down from the presidency of the University and is succeeded by Vartan Gregorian.


The Brown Satellite Project, a video teleconferencing service between Brown and the Soviet Space Program, is established. The Soviets ship a complete ground station to the University, which is installed near the athletic center. 


Following a vote by the Corporation, Brown President Vartan Gregorian rededicates the Institute in the name of Thomas J. Watson Jr. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Schevarnadze gives the keynote address at the dedication ceremony.

After 10 years as an independent research organization, the CFPD becomes part of the Institute.

Howard Swearer dies. Gregorian becomes acting director of the Institute.

Sergei Khrushchev, son of former Soviet Premier and Communist Party Chief Nikita Krushchev, comes to the CFPD as a visiting scholar and later becomes a senior fellow at the Institute.


Thomas Watson dies.

Undergraduates Daniel Cruise ’94, Michael Soussan ’95, and Alexander Scribner ’94 found the Brown Journal of World Affairs. Funded by the Watson Institute, the magazine features essays written by world leaders, academics, and policy makers.


Thomas J. Biersteker, the Luce Professor of Transnational Organizations in Political Science, is appointed director of the Institute, with a mandate to restructure it. 


Biersteker proposes reorganizing the Institute around four areas: Global Security; Political Economy and Development; Politics, Culture, and Identity; and Hunger, Health, Population, and the Environment. 

Biersteker’s proposed restructuring is approved by Watson’s Board of Overseers in November.

Directors are named for each of the Institute’s four research areas. P. Terrence Hopmann, professor of political science, heads the Global Security Program; Robert Wade, professor of political science and international political economy, directs the Political Economy and Development Program; David I. Kertzer, professor of anthropology and history, directs the Politics, Culture, and Identity group. And Watson Institute Director Thomas J. Biersteker oversees the Hunger, Health, Population, and Environment (HHPE) Program. The HHPE program soon evolves into the Global Environment Program, directed by Steven Hamburg.


The Humanitarianism and War Project begins at the Institute, under the direction of Thomas Weiss.


The Brown University Academic Council approves Institute restructuring in April.

After more than two years of planning, two teams of scholars, former government policymakers, and military leaders from Vietnam and the United States meet face-to-face in Hanoi to revisit the lessons and missed opportunities of the Vietnam War. The historic conference is organized by Watson Professor James G. Blight.

President Vartan Gregorian leaves Brown to head the Carnegie Corporation.

Plans develop for a new building to house the Watson Institute, bringing together its constituent programs—hitherto dispersed across five campus locations—under one roof. An international competition for the design is announced, with a selection committee chaired by John Carter Brown. Architects from around the world participate, including I.M. Pei, Yoshio Taneguchi, and Zaha Hadid.

The winner is Rafael Viñoly Architects of New York.


Beginning his tenure as Brown University’s 17th president, E. Gordon Gee joins Watson’s Board of Overseers.


Groundbreaking ceremony for the new Watson Institute building at 111 Thayer Street takes place in May. Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan gives the Stephen A. Ogden Jr. Memorial Lecture on International Affairs.

Watson assumes editorship of the International Studies Review. Under the guidance of Editor Linda B. Miller, an Institute adjunct professor and Wellesley College professor of political science, the Institute’s first issue of the ISR comes out in the spring.


Abbott Gleason, Brown professor of history and former Watson associate director, serves as director while Thomas J. Biersteker takes a yearlong sabbatical.

In the wake of 1999’s VirtualY2K conference on digital technologies and security, Professor James Der Derian begins the Information Technology, War, and Peace Project with support from the Ford Foundation to investigate the use of new network and information technology in war and diplomacy.

Construction continues on the new Watson Institute building at 111 Thayer Street.


Ruth J. Simmons assumes the presidency of Brown, becoming its first female president and the first African American president of an Ivy League university.

In partnership with the Luce Foundation, the Watson Institute invites seven mid-career environmental leaders—Watson Scholars—from universities, governments, and NGOs in the Global South to participate in a series of inter-disciplinary courses on environmental topics throughout the spring semester.


The Institute moves into its new and home at 111 Thayer Street. Meanwhile, Watson faculty and staff rapidly organize research and teaching initiatives to explore issues related to international terrorism. The Choices Program curriculum staff mobilizes to create a five-day unit for high school students titled Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy. The unit garners media attention and is used in more than 1,000 high schools in 2001 alone.


The Targeted Financial Sanctions Project hosts representatives from all 15 members of the UN Security Council for a workshop, training, and simulation exercise to examine sanction reform processes.

Watson hosts former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who delivers the Stephen J. Ogden Jr. ’60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs.


A new partnership between the Institute and Brown’s Literary Arts Program, the International Writers Project (IWP) provides a one-year residency to a creative writer who faces censorship or persecution in his or her home country. The first IWP Fellow is the Iranian novelist Shahrnush Parsipour.

The Cultural Awareness in the Military project, headed by anthropologists and Institute faculty Catherine Lutz and Keith Brown, examines how American armed forces are integrating cultural knowledge in their training and strategic practices.


With the help of a multimillion-dollar grant from the estate of Thomas J. Watson Jr. and Olive C. Watson, the Institute endows several new positions and embarks on a five-year strategic plan to further facilitate the translation of Institute research into policy practice.

After more than a decade of leadership, Thomas J. Biersteker announces his plan to step down as Institute director.

The Political Economy and Development program becomes the editorial home for the highly regarded international journal Studies in Comparative International Development.


Barbara Stallings, William R. Rhodes Research Professor and head of Watson’s Political Economy and Development Program, is named director of the Institute. The directorship is renamed in Howard R. Swearer’s honor.

President Simmons sets out an ambitious agenda to internationalize Brown, with the Watson Institute playing a leading role in making Brown a truly global university.


The Institute launches a three-year Globalization and Inequality Initiative under the leadership of Director Barbara Stallings.

Richard C. Holbrooke, former US ambassador to the United Nations and Germany and a 1962 Brown graduate, is appointed to a five-year term as professor at large based at the Institute.


David Kennedy, previously the vice president for international affairs at Brown, takes leadership of the Institute, while outgoing Director Barbara Stallings resumes her work as a full-time Watson faculty member.

Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived, directed by Visiting Fellow Koji Masutani and produced by Professors James G. Blight and janet M. Lang, premiers to critical acclaim.

The University and Banco Santander announce a plan to inaugurate an annual series of Brown International Advanced Research Institutes (BIARI), which will bring a rising generation of scholars, primarily from the Global South, to the Institute to learn and share knowledge.


The Institute’s library is dedicated to Kim Koo, premier of the Korean Provisional Government and leader of the Korean independence movement of 1910-1945. The dedication was made posible by a gift from the Kim Koo Foundation.

Michael D. Kennedy, a sociologist from the University of Michigan, is named director of the Institute.


The Review of International Political Economy establishes its new editorial headquarters at the Watson institute.

The documentary film Human Terrain: War Becomes Academic, co-written and co-directed by Institute research professor James Der Derian, is released.


Watson Institute Professor Catherine Lutz and Boston University Professor Neta Crawford co-lead the Costs of War research initiative, a comprehensive accounting of the costs—human, economic, social, and political—incurred by the US’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The project brings together 30 experts from institutions across the US and Canada.

During a two-year search for a permanent director, Carolyn Dean, professor of history, and Peter Andreas, professor political science and international studies, each serve as interim director for one year.


Christina H. Paxson, an economist and former dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, begins her term as the 19th president of Brown. 

The Brown-India Initiative is established, with Professor Ashutosh Varshney as its inaugural director.

Historian Beshara Doumani comes to Brown from UC Berkeley to expand the undergraduate program in Middle East Studies into one of the Institute's core centers for area studies.


Richard M. Locke begins his tenure as the Howard R. Swearer Director of the Watson Institute.

The China and Brazil Initiatives are established at the Institute.


The Watson Institute and the A. Alfred Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy announce that they will begin a process of integration.

The Watson Institute launches a newly designed, one-year Master of Public Affairs program.

On behalf of the Watson Institute and the U.S. Naval War College, Brown University signs an agreement to promote collaborative research and teaching between the two institutions to address challenges to international security.


Richard M. Locke named as Brown University’s 13th provost.

Watson receives a $50-million gift which will fund construction of a new building, expansion of the institute’s faculty, and initiatives aimed at deepening the University’s impact in addressing some of the world’s most vexing policy challenges.

The Institute’s name is changed to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

Edward Steinfeld, the Dean’s Professor of China Studies, director of the China Initiative and professor of political science, is named the Howard R. Swearer Director of the Watson Institute.


The Brown-India Initiative and the South Asian Studies concentration merge to form the Center for Contemporary South Asia. The Center’s aim is to develop a problem-driven, comparative, and multidisciplinary approach to regional studies. Ashutosh Varshney continues to lead the center, and Leela Gandhi is named associate director. 

The Humanitarian Innovation Initiative is formed under the leadership of Adam C. Levine, associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown University, to improve disaster preparedness, humanitarian response, and post-emergency reconstruction.

The Watson Institute celebrates its first quarter century. Special 25th Anniversary events include lectures and panels exploring current critical issues, as well as two art exhibits.


Ground is broken on an ambitious project that will expand the Watson Institute’s footprint by 31,000 square feet by fall 2018. The project entails the construction of a new building and renovation of an existing one.