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History of Social and Political Thought

The Center for Social and Political Thought was originally established in 1984 as the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Culture and Society. It was created as a result of national endowment for the humanities consultantship grant which secured the advice of the late John Stevenson, then director of the Appalachian Studies Center at the University of Kentucky and subsequently president of Berea College in Kentucky. The Center, originally located on the St. Petersburg campus but with a university wide mission was a link between the humanities and the social sciences, during a period in the history of the university in which the humanities and social sciences were in separate colleges. The Center reported to the Council of Liberal Arts deans, which was an administrative forerunner of the present College of Arts and Sciences. The Center has long been associated with the master of liberal arts degree, itself originally restricted to the humanities and was instrumental in expanding this degree to include the social sciences. The Center operated the liberal studies option program of the master of liberal arts degree on the St. Petersburg campus.

The center's role was to facilitate scholarly exchange and research as well as such things as lecture series in the general domain of culture and society. To this end it developed a lecture series funded by the Florida Endowment for the Humanities that brought together speakers from philosophy, such as Larry Laudan and Ian Jarvie, political theory, such as Harvey Mansfield, in art history, such as Lucy Lippard, for lectures directed at the public as well as the academic communities of the Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses. The most successful role played by the Center, however, was to provide a home for international scholars in social and political thought. Dirk Kaesler, now of the University of Marburg, and Sven Eliaeson, of the university program at Karlstadt and Stockholm University both had extended stays at the Center. In each case they contributed to the life of the university and to its public outreach. Funding for their stays was secured from national research institution funds in Germany and Sweden respectively. Other international scholars have visited for shorter stays, including Paolo Jedlowski of the University of Calabria, Steve Woolgar of Brunel University, Wolfgang Mommsen of Dusseldorf University, and Jeffrey Alexander of UCLA.

In 1994 the name of the center was officially changed to the Center for Social and Political Thought. This change reflected the fact that the college itself had been reorganized and that the older administrative divide between the humanities and the social sciences no longer existed, and a bureaucratic change within the college which relocated budgets for centers within departments. The Center was now housed within the Philosophy Department with participation by faculty in other departments and colleges. As the core successes of the Center were in the area of social and political thought, it was decided to focus its efforts in this area and to develop a social and political thought track for the master of liberal arts program. The Center still serves its original purposes of fostering a scholarship and scholarly exchange between disciplines, public outreach, hosting visitors, and sponsoring lectures. In 1997 it will sponsor the Kathryn Stevens Overbey memorial lecture.

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Last updated February 5, 2004
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