Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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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.


Seventy undergraduates majoring in Watson's International and Public Affairs concentration, launched in 2020, graduate in May.

In response to Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Watson Institute organizes a weekly Crisis Seminar on the Invasion of Ukraine, led by Senior Fellow Lyle Goldstein. This informal discussion is complemented by Watson’s War in Ukraine lecture series, featuring experts from around the world.

A $10 million gift is received to elevate the Center for Contemporary on South Asia’s groundbreaking teaching and research and extend its global reach. The renamed Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia will increase the number of undergraduate and graduate students it sends to the region for research and internships, and will add new institutional linkages there. The Center began as the India Initiative, established in 2012.


The Stone Inequality Initiative launches at the Watson Institute. Funded by the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation, the project is co-directed by James Morone, John Hazen White Professor of Political Science, Public Policy, and Urban Studies, and Margaret Weir, Wilson Professor of International and Public Affairs and Political Science. Its goal is to explore the detrimental effects of both inequality and great wealth on democratic institutions. 

The Watson Institute launches its one-year Military Fellows Program, established with a 2019 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The program, directed by Watson Senior Fellow Dave Polatty, enables U.S. and international mid-level military officers to participate in security-related research, seminars, classes, and public events alongside the Institute’s faculty, students, and policy practitioners.

To mark the 20-year anniversary of 9/11, the Watson-based Costs of War releases a new report announcing the latest assessment of the human and budgetary costs of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, and holds an online, live-streamed event titled “20 Years Later: The True Costs of the Post-9/11 Wars” as part of a series of events exploring these wars. The “20 Years of War” research series, organized in partnership with the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University was funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.


With the support and guidance of family, friends, and classmates of John F. Kennedy Jr. ’83, the Watson Institute establishes The John F. Kennedy Jr. Initiative for Documentary Film and Social Progress. The initiative brings film and filmmakers to campus with the goal of shedding light on society’s urgent and complex issues through the prism of documentary. The initiative launches with a screening of Taghi Amirani's film Coup 53, followed by a panel discussion with the director.

In response to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, Watson institutes COVID-Today, a series of events in which Brown faculty and visiting experts discuss the public health crisis in the U.S. and around the world.

Edward S. Steinfeld is reappointed as the Howard R. Swearer Director of the Thomas J. Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. His accomplishments during his first term include expanding the Watson faculty, launching the International and Public Affairs undergraduate concentration, strengthening the Master of Public Affairs program, overseeing the creation and construction of Stephen Robert Hall, and raising the Institute’s profile.

As part of the three-year Brown Climate Initiative, Watson establishes the Climate Solutions Lab. Directed by Jeff Colgan, Richard Holbrook Associate Professor of Political Science, the lab will focus on overcoming barriers to confronting climate change through scholarship, learning, and research-informed infrastructure changes. In October, the Lab issued Presidential Climate Action on Day One: A Foreign-Policy Guide for the Next U.S. President


The Middle East Studies program at Watson becomes the Center for Middle East Studies, signaling a significant shift from being an undergraduate concentration to serving as a hub of Middle East-related scholarship and teaching at Brown.

Three years after the Humanitarian Innovation Initiative was established at the Watson Institute, it becomes the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies, led by founding director Adam Levine, MD, MPH.

Stephen Robert ’62 Hall is dedicated on May 23, one day before Commencement-Reunion Weekend.

The Watson Institute’s proposal to create a unified undergraduate concentration, International and Public Affairs, is approved by the University. Through a multi-year transition, the new concentration will eventually replace Development Studies, International Relations, and Public Policy.


Stephen Robert ’62 Hall, part of the Watson Institute’s expansion plan, opens in December.

The Brown in Tulsa Program, a partnership of the Watson Institute and the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation, is launched. The program provides tuition relief for two master of public affairs students who commit to doing their 12-week consultancy in Tulsa, and, after graduation, working for two years in one of the organizations GKFF invests in or partners with. In addition, the Swearer Center agrees to place three to five undergraduates in summer internships in GKFF-related organizations.

The Watson Institute launches a student study group led by Senior Fellow Tom Perez ’83, chair of the Democratic National Committee. Additional groups led by Senior Fellows Michael Steele, former chair of the Republican National Committee, and Jon Klein, former president of CNN/U.S., are added in subsequent semesters. The not-for-credit study groups help students apply theory and research to real world challenges

The Rhodes Center for International Economics and Finance re-opens at the Watson Institute. Political economist Mark Blyth is director.

After 30 years of affiliation, the Choices Program moves from the Watson Institute to the Department of History. 


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.

Launch of the Brown in Washington Program, a partnership of the Swearer Center and the Watson Institute. The immersive experience blends academics, a public service internship, and co-curricular experiences in Washington, D.C.

The Africa Initiative is established. Daniel Smith is its inaugural director.


Edward Steinfeld succeeds Richard Locke as 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.

As part of the University’s Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion: An Action Plan for Brown University (DIAP), the Watson Institute convenes its Diversity and Inclusion Committee, composed of students, staff, and faculty. The committee’s initial charge is to establish goals to explore “faculty hiring and retention practices” as well as “opportunities to improve departmental culture and graduate and undergraduate experience.” It is also charged with producing a diversity-and-inclusion plan, which it does in June 2016. The committee, which meets on a regular basis, renews the plan’s goals and intentions annually.

The Watson Institute launches Trending Globally, a biweekly discussion bridging research, politics, and policy to address today's critical global challenges. The first episode, “Gender and the 2016 Election,” features political scientists Rose McDermott and Susan Moffitt. 

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.


Richard M. Locke named 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.

The Institute establishes a one-year Master of Public Affairs program.

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 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.

The first cohort of the Watson Postdoctoral Fellows Program, re-launched by Richard Locke in 2013, arrives. Fellows receive two years of support and teach one course per year while they pursue their research and participate in the intellectual life of the Institute. They also convene once a month during the academic year to present their work in progress.


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.

Art at Watson’s first show opens. Abbott Gleason Pictures: 1961 – 2013 exhibits drawings and paintings by Watson’s former associate director.


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.

The Art at Watson committee is formed. Its charge is to exhibit works by students, faculty, and staff from Brown, as well as by artists from the broader community, that relate to the Institute’s mission.



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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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. 


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


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.


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.


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


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 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.


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.


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.


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.