A History of Weatherhead Initiative Projects

With the establishment of the Center’s Weatherhead Endowment in 1998, the Weatherhead Initiative in International Affairs began concurrently as an expression of the wish of the Weatherhead Foundation to encourage and support large-scale and groundbreaking research in the realm of international affairs. The Initiative promotes the integration of teams of faculty researchers seeking innovative answers to essential problems on transnational, global, and comparative national topics.

All Harvard professors with continuing regular appointments are eligible to submit proposals. Faculty members from other research institutions in the United States or abroad can be on their research teams. Traditionally, the Center Director has appointed a Weatherhead Initiative Selection Committee to screen proposals and make recommendations to the Weatherhead Center Executive Committee.

The Weatherhead Center awarded the first Weatherhead Initiative in International Affairs faculty grant in March 2000 to Professors Gary King of the Department of Government and Chris Murray of the Harvard School of Public Health. Their project, “Military Conflict as a Public Health Problem,” was launched in the 2000–2001 academic year. The goal of the project was to convince the public health, international relations, and statistical methodology communities of the benefits of treating military conflict as a public health problem. Some work on this problem had occurred in all three fields, but, with a few exceptions, the fields had generally operated in isolation. At the broadest level, the project tried to reorient several scholarly literatures, public policies, and action agendas rather than to produce a single scholarly product. During the course of the project, public-health scholars provided the critical expertise necessary to measure the new outcome variable of human misery. King and Murray discovered synergies among the three fields, including the extension of “case-control methodology” from public health to international relations. Collaboration between scholars in these areas also resulted in better conceptualizations of “human security” and better forecasts of global mortality levels.

The second Weatherhead Initiative project, begun in 2001–2002, examined the role of identity—national, ethnic, religious, and otherwise—in international and domestic politics. “Identity as a Variable” was directed by Professors Alastair Iain Johnston and Yoshiko Herrera of the Department of Government, Professor Terry Martin of the Department of History, and Professor Rawi Abdelal of the Harvard Business School. With the concept of identity taking an increasingly prominent place in the social sciences, analysis of the development of social identities themselves has become an important focus of scholarly research. Scholars using social identities as the building blocks of social, political, and economic life have attempted to account for a number of discrete outcomes by treating identities as independent variables. The dominant implication of the vast literature on identity is that social identities are among the most important social facts of the world in which we live. The research team identified two sets of problems with social identity scholarship, namely conceptual issues and coordination gaps. They brought together scholars from a variety of disciplines and sub-disciplines in order to consider the conceptual and methodological issues associated with treating identity as a variable, explicitly seeking to solve some of the coordination problems that have impeded progress in identity scholarship. Finally, they developed content analysis software that allows for computer-aided quantitative content analysis in non-English languages including, for example, Russian and Chinese.

The third Weatherhead Initiative, “Religion and Global Politics,” began in 2002. The project examined the relationship of religious belief to types of political activity. Samuel P. Huntington, the Albert J. Weatherhead University Professor, headed the project. Four other Harvard professors—J. Bryan Hehir and David Little of the Harvard Divinity School and Jessica Stern and Monica Duffy Toft of the Harvard Kennedy School—also directed components of the project, as did Professor Daniel Philpott of the University of Notre Dame and Timothy Shah, then of the Washington, DC-based Ethics and Public Policy Center. The research team produced a systematic, comprehensive, comparative analysis of the impact on global politics of religious beliefs and organizations. The project linked five studies that considered the relationship of religious belief to five types of political activity, including national identity and political legitimacy, terrorism and civil war, the transition to democratic rights and regimes, the reduction of conflict, and conceptions of international order. The resulting research produced several monographs, three books, and a number of articles published in academic and policy-making journals.

The fourth project, which began in January 2003, was “International Human Capital Flows and their Effects on Developing Countries.” The project considered international human capital flows and their effects on “brain drain,” cross-national labor market efficiencies, taxation options, and the capacity of human beings to construct a world of their choice. The four faculty members directing the project were Professors Mihir Desai of the Harvard Business School, Devesh Kapur of the Department of Government, and Dani Rodrik and Mark R. Rosenzweig of the Harvard Kennedy School. The project focused on the political economy of migration and, in particular, the foreign migration of skilled labor. The premise of the research was that cross-border flows of human capital are likely to play a highly influential role in shaping the political and economic landscape over the next fifty years, driven by structural factors, both demographic and technological, in both developing and developed countries. The researchers contended that developed countries will: 1) allow a greater magnitude of immigration to ease the fiscal pressures of aging societies; 2) become increasingly selective about the immigrants they seek to attract and admit, with a focus on attracting skilled workers likely to have a positive fiscal impact; and 3) increasingly encourage temporary immigration, especially where the temporary migrants do not establish any benefit entitlements. In contrast to the voluminous literature on the impacts of immigration on developed countries, the consequences of the potentially large cross-border flows of human capital on source countries have received scant attention from economists and political scientists, so this research initiative focused on the political economy of developed-country immigration policy; the multiple economic and political effects of skilled emigration; and policy options, tax and non-tax based, for developing countries and the international community.

The fifth and sixth projects receiving Weatherhead Initiative grants shared the annual award funds and were begun in the 2005–2006 academic year. The first project, “Humanitarian Response to Forced Migration: The 1947 Partition of India,” was headed by Professors Jennifer Leaning of the Harvard School of Public Health and Sharon Stanton Russell of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and included collaboration with Professor Sugata Bose of the Department of History. This initiative examined the demographic and humanitarian impact of the 1947 Partition of India. Against the backdrop of substantial mortality and population movement, the research examined the role of governments and voluntary agencies in carrying out the relief enterprise that was undertaken from 1946 to 1949 in response to Partition-related violence and distress in both western and eastern regions of British India.

Beginning in 2007, Professor Michèle Lamont of the Departments of Sociology and African and African American Studies headed the seventh Weatherhead Initiative project, “A Comparative Study of Responses to Discrimination by Members of Stigmatized Groups,” in collaboration with a wide array of Harvard faculty and graduate students. The project was designed to analyze the discursive and behavioral strategies that members of stigmatized groups use to cope with racism and discrimination. Comparing the accounts of these strategies produced by middle- and working-class men and women ages 18 to 70, the research team focused on members of minority groups living in mixed cities: negros in Rio de Janeiro; African Americans in New York; and Ethiopian immigrants, Mizrahis, and Muslim Palestinian citizens in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. They studied how the range and salience of coping strategies are affected by perceived discrimination across these national contexts. Preliminary findings were discussed at a conference at Harvard in October 2009. One book offering a systematic comparison of the United States, Brazilian, and Israeli cases will emerge. Another publication will discuss collective myths in Quebec; the maintenance of Jewish collective identity among Canadian youth; the social psychology of discrimination; and responses to racism by immigrants in Sweden, blacks in France, members of First Nation tribes in Canada, Muslims in the United States and the United Kingdom after September 11, and members of the black middle class in Brazil and South Africa.

The eighth Initiative grant, launched in 2008, was led by Professors Rohini Pande of the Harvard Kennedy School and Erica Field of the Department of Economics. Their project, “Empirical Studies of the Economics of Urban Poverty Reduction,” examined how markets and institutions in urban areas of the developing world affect the prospects of the poor and the problem of ghettoization, with associated negative consequences for health, economic mobility, and social stability. The research team sought to provide rigorous empirical evidence on how improved housing and credit access influences the economic outcomes of the urban poor, with their empirical work having important theoretical implications. Related projects were led by Professor Amitabh Chandra of the Harvard Kennedy School on measuring the extent of antibiotic resistance in urban slums in India, relating this to differences in doctor quality; Nancy Qian, a Scholar of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies and Professor Lakshmi Iyer of the Harvard Business School on urban housing reform in China, providing a counterpart to the housing studies focused in India; and Professor Nathan Nunn of the Department of Economics on identifying the economic forces underlying the spatial distribution of industry across Indian cities. The projects were linked to an ongoing empirical research program in urban poverty reduction at Harvard, including the development of graduate-level courses cross-listed between the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Harvard Kennedy School to foster learning environments integrating doctoral students and faculty working in the area of development and urban economics.

In 2009–2010, the team of Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong of the Department of History, Professors Robert Bates and James Robinson of the Department of Government, and Professor Nathan Nunn of the Department of Economics began the ninth Weatherhead Initiative entailing research on “Understanding African Poverty over the Longue Durée.” Through this project the researchers sought to achieve a better understanding of why Africa’s economic performance has been so poor in the 50 years since independence, and also to address why Africa seems to have been so poor historically—and, of course, whether this has really been the case. The team approached the question of African poverty through both collective and individual undertakings. First, they gathered a diverse group of leading scholars for two conferences: one at the International Institute for the Advanced Study of Cultures, Institutions and Economic Enterprise (IIAS) in Accra, Ghana, and another at the Weatherhead Center. With participants’ conference papers, they produced a book. Second, Professors Bates and Robinson designed and taught an undergraduate course, debuted in the fall of 2009, entitled “Why is Africa Poor?”. Finally, in order to enhance these collective endeavors, each member of the team undertook an individual research project that fit within the larger rubric.

In 2009–2010, a team composed of Professors Jacob Olupona, Harvey Cox, and Marla Frederick, and doctoral candidate Devaka Premawardhana, of the Harvard Divinity School, carried out a scholarly workshop at Harvard on the topic of “Pentecostalism in Transnational Perspective,” supported as the tenth Weatherhead Initiative. Their project sought to advance understanding of the worldwide phenomenon of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, its causes and effects, and the unquestioned stereotypes and misunderstandings of Pentecostals as fundamentalist, reactionary, exploited or exploitative, and antithetical to material and political progress. Their aim was to bring the study of Pentecostalism into creative dialogue with inquiries about global and transnational forces—particularly where it is commonplace to assume that the process of modernization occurs in spite of the role of religion, rather than as facilitated by it. A subsequent non-Initiative but Weatherhead Center-funded faculty grant, in 2010, enabled these scholars to go to the field to gather data on three continents.

As the eleventh Weatherhead Initiative grantees, beginning in July 2011, a team of researchers led by principal investigators Professors Michael B. McElroy of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Dale W. Jorgenson of the Department of Economics, and including Harvard-based researchers Chris P. Nielsen, Mun S. Ho, and Zhao Yu; Tsinghua University-based Cao Jing and Wang Yuxuan; and Lei Yu of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning are developing a uniquely comprehensive research framework for evaluating the costs and benefits of national strategies to control emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants in China. Formally entitled “The Costs and Benefits of Carbon and Air Pollution Control in China: An Interdisciplinary and Analytical Framework,” the project’s purpose is to investigate the effects of two kinds of emission control policies: carbon taxes, and anticipated technology mandates for control of nitrogen oxides. Policy options are being investigated using an integrated framework developed from multiple streams of scholarship published by the participants over more than a decade of prior investigation. At the project’s end, components of the research will be disseminated through refereed disciplinary and cross-disciplinary journals. The entire integrated analysis will be published in a reviewed, edited volume from an academic press modeled on the team’s well-reviewed previous book Clearing the Air: The Health and Economic Damages of Air Pollution in China, edited by Mun S. Ho and Chris P. Nielsen (MIT Press, 2007), ideally in Chinese as well as English.

A twelfth Initiative project, beginning simultaneously in July 2011, is the first Weatherhead Initiative Research Cluster, under the rubric of Global History. Led by Professors Sven Beckert and Charles Maier of the Department of History, this initiative is poised to better understand how human societies have developed as an interactive community across the world. Global history recognizes the persistence of states along with new globalized trends, but it aims to capture the multiple processes that have engaged societies “sans frontieres.” Much of human history, the research team contends, is best understood by not containing investigations within particular national or even regional visions. Histories that transcend the nation-state allow scholars to capture a world of networks, processes, and identities that were previously on the intellectual margins of the discipline. This venture to push the study of the past, both the remote and the recent, beyond the compartmentalized approach most older historians grew up with is designed to mobilize scholars in faculties and research centers across the world.

The aim of the project, ultimately, is to institutionalize global history at Harvard as a thriving intellectual community, providing funding for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, strengthening General Education offerings on global history, and facilitating cooperation with other such research centers in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe.