Peace Studies at Bradford

In the 19th century, Bradford was internationally renowned for its wool. Today, the West Yorkshire city and its university gain a measure of fame for peace studies, with the largest such department in the world and a public profile which enraged Margaret Thatcher

By Derek Paul | 1997-11-01 12:00:00

MENTION Bradford's Department of Peace Studies back in 1983, and you would have been advised - by those few who already knew about it - that it was well worth a visit. Today, however, it has gone much further. Indeed, it is this department which makes the University of Bradford distinctive.

What exactly constitutes Peace Studies in the University setting? Are peace studies departments academically respectable and, if so, what gives them their distinction? Couldn't the work they do be equally well done in other departments?

The short answer is that a modern department of peace studies is one that engages in three activities: undergraduate studies, graduate studies, and peace research. The longer answer should become apparent in what follows.

When, in 1987, I was asked by the Pugwash Council to prepare a "commissioned paper" on peace research, I found myself forced to examine the values underlying research itself: research of all sorts and on all topics. The fundamental ingredient of the values underlying peace research seemed to be life itself, whereas in all other disciplines there is likely to be more of a mix of values. If we go further and look at the purposes and nature of publication of the results of peace research, it is clear that such results must be relevant to furthering human wellbeing and must thus contain an element of advocacy, no matter how fundamental and objective the research itself is. Advocacy is often furthest from the minds and inclinations of many academics when they publish their results. Objectivity is paramount, while advocacy too often is suppressed and thought improper as an ingredient of respectable academic work.

This distinction between Peace Research and other academic disciplines is probably one of the underlying reasons for the caution with which peace studies has been accepted as a discipline (to the limited extent it has been accepted) and for the hostility it usually encounters at the time someone is trying to establish a department of peace studies.

Bradford was no exception. The foundation of the department in 1973 followed several years of effort by The Society of Friends (Quakers) in England to set up such a department in a British university. Most universities approached were responsive to the idea, but unwilling to offer any of their own funds for the purpose. In 1970, George Murphy, the Friend who had originally expressed the wish to set up an academic unit for peace studies, was appointed to the Chair of Finance at the University of Bradford. Before long, it was agreed between the University and the Quakers that each should try to raise half of the £150,000 (about $450,000 at that time) which they estimated as the minimum to establish a Chair. In September 1971, the "Meeting of Sufferings" of the Society of Friends endorsed the proposal to launch a public appeal to raise the Quakers' share of £75,000. They expected it would take up to three years. The money was raised, however, in ten weeks, partly owing, perhaps, to the list of very prominent people who agreed to head the list of sponsors - Harold Wilson, R.A.B. Butler, the Archbishop of York, Yehudi Menuhin, Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, J.B. Priestly and Professor Lord Zuckerman, to name only a few.

The first chair was Adam Curle, then a senior Professor at Harvard, and well known for his contribution to peace research. His achievement at Bradford was bringing in to the nascent Department a wide variety of talent (often in conflict) which, however, had the effect of putting their work rapidly into high gear. There was in the early years a mix of scholars and activists, laced with an experienced peacekeeper - Michael Harbottle, formerly Chief of Staff of the United Nations Forces in Cyprus.

Harbottle expected his students to get directly involved in some peacekeeping operation or other somewhere in the world - it was their practicum. The Department in its earliest days was therefore scholarly, activist, and practical. It is still scholarly and highly practical; however, the activism today has been subsumed largely into a role of advising non-governmental groups.

When Curle retired in 1978 and James O'Connell was appointed as chair, there was just enough conflict in the department that some change was necesssary. O'Connell's view was that to survive and play an important role in the world, the academic credentials of the Department would have to be further strengthened, which he proceeded to oversee in the next few years. Only one tenured member of the staff left, and the Department was slowly but surely built up.

Furthermore, the department survived the determined efforts of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to get rid of it. In his 1993 retirement lecture, O'Connell recalled that the Prime Minister had more than once asked her officials: "Has that department been dealt with yet?" The government's attack on the Peace Studies programme resulted in an investigation by the University Grants' Committee in 1981. The university did not oppose the investigation, believing that it had nothing to hide, and the committee gave the department a clean bill of health.

The department was able to show its rigorous academic programs and excellent student work, while the staff were able to furnish appreciative comments from British Ministry of Defence officials who valued one of the few nongovernmental sources of defence analysis.

The department also survived the drastic 1981 cuts to university budgets, when Bradford lost 30% of its funding and had to close eight departments. Peace Studies not only survived the purges, but went on to greater growth (see figures).

By 1992 the department had produced more than 30 books, and more than 460 articles or chapters in books, a great testimony to O'Connell's policies and the quality and work of the staff and students. Members of the department were and continue to be in constant demand by the media, notably television. Articles from the academic staff appear in The Observer, The Guardian, The Glasgow Herald, and The Yorkshire Post, among other papers. There are demands for speakers from schools and from nongovernmental organizations, and staff continue to be in touch with the government, serving as advisers on various committees.

The Annual Peace Research Report for 1995-6 shows a remarkable average of more than five published papers per full-time academic staff member. Part of the success of the Department must be the fortunate mix of disciplines of the academic staff. Peace research has for long been recognized as interdisciplinary between political science, economics, history and sociology; but to be truly successful it must be much broader than this. Bradford also has at least three natural scientists on its staff, including the current chair, Paul Rogers, who has a degree in the biological sciences. Rogers is not only a first-class scholar but one of the most dynamic forces in peace research and teaching. He was recognized by O'Connell many years ago as Britain's leading expert on disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament issues. The breadth of academic scope at Bradford is of tremendous importance in enabling the Department to keep up with the times, notably the widening in emphasis in peace studies, from arms control, disarmament, and other international security issues, to quite general environmental issues, most prominently, climate change, which today is recognized as a huge threat to the human race, but was not even discussed in the 1970s.

Undergraduate and graduate programs have also grown from the department's modest beginnings. Peace Studies now admits about 65 students each year into its undergraduate program, and currently has about 100 graduate students enrolled. Twenty-two of the graduate positions are funded by the Universities' Funding Council, an exceptionally high proportion for the social sciences in Britain. While the Department is one of over 100 such departments worldwide, it is the only university department in Britain devoted exclusively to Peace Studies. It is also the world's largest such department and probably its most important.

Derek Paul's Pugwash paper, "Peace Research", appears in the Proceedings of the International Conference on Science and World Affairs (Gmunden, Austria, 1987). For student prospectuses ("Undergraduate Course in Peace Studies" or "Postgraduate Courses and Research in Peace Studies" or annual reports ("Peace Research at Bradford"), please write to the Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, Richmond Road, West Yorkshire, BD7 1DP, Great Britain or visit

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1997

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1997, page 20. Some rights reserved.

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