Message from the Director

A Moment to Celebrate: 60 Years at the Weatherhead Center

Image of Michele LamontThe Weatherhead Center has played a capital role in the development of the social sciences at Harvard and nationally at various historical periods. The leadership of those who have preceded me has left its indelible mark on the research agenda in international relations early on, as detailed in the book, In Theory and In Practice: Harvard’s Center for International Affairs 1958–1983. Three years into my term as director of the Weatherhead Center (with a half-year as acting director in 2014), I take the opportunity of this anniversary edition of Centerpiece to take stock and discuss possible paths for the future. 

I have discussed many of our most recent innovations in past issues of Centerpiece. The most significant are the creation of six Weatherhead Research Clusters over the past two years; a dynamic Weatherhead Scholars Program which is now in its second year of hosting twenty-one annual visitors; and a well-attended biweekly Weatherhead Forum, where we learn about the research being conducted across programs, initiatives, and clusters. 

These changes are the result of an external review held in 2016–2017 which resulted in better connection between the activities of the Center and the interests of the faculty. Equally important is the intensification of collective research efforts conducted intra muros, which contribute to making WCFIA a lively and dynamic place for multidisciplinary intellectual exploration and systematic empirical inquiry. Additionally, our communications team plays a vital role in highlighting our research and promoting it to various media. 

These activities complement our five existing programs and projects (Canada Program, Program on U.S.-Japan Relations, The Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Center for History and Economics, and the pilot SCANCOR-Weatherhead Partnership) and the three initiatives created in 2015 and 2016, with a respective focus on climate engineering, gender inequality, and Afro-Latin American studies.  

The long-term expansion of our Faculty Associates (now numbering 236 across nine of Harvard’s thirteen schools) strengthens our ties with professional schools as we continue to engage the main social science departments in FAS. As a result, one-third of our current graduate students hail from Harvard schools outside of FAS. In this sense, WCFIA is now operating on a larger scale than it did in the past.  

We have made substantial efforts to increase the ownership of Faculty Associates of the Weatherhead Center, who now have full responsibility for peer review. Indeed, over twenty-five faculty grantees contribute every year to the evaluation of proposals by undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and visitors. Evaluation committees set a high bar when it comes to funding conferences, research projects, and faculty leaves—encouraging original and theoretically and socially significant research. 

Of course, none of this could have been accomplished without the financial support of the Weatherhead endowment and other donors, the dedication of faculty serving our Executive and Steering Committees, the support of members of our Advisory Committee, and the work of our amazingly competent and good-humored staff. I express my profound gratitude to everyone for their generous contribution to the vibrancy of our intellectual community.

What about the future? Much of our task for the years ahead is to consolidate the various activities that we created in the recent past. Some of the research clusters are starting their activities only this fall and it will take time before they are operating in full force as research communities. 

The longer-range objectives will be to further promote the research orientation of the WCFIA and to ensure its continued vibrancy as an intellectual community. The Center is above all an intellectual project that plays a crucial role in animating and invigorating the social sciences at Harvard, including in applied fields such as sustainability, education, and health. 

In order to better perform this role, we need to consolidate financially the Weatherhead Scholars Program and research clusters and increase graduate student funding, so as to make international research even more attractive to the abundant talents that converge at Harvard. This is in line with the objective set by Harvard President Larry Bacow to better show how Harvard contributes to improving the world. The themes of our research clusters—inequality, social inclusion, security, regionalism, global transformation, threats to democracy, and more—are global concerns. We must convene scholars from every continent, including the Global South, to address the issues that concern us immediately and in the long term.

The measure of our success will be our ability to foster global conversation and innovative research. So far, the track record is amazing, but there is certainly more ahead!

Michèle Lamont
Center Director

Photo credit: Dave Nelson