Program Overview

Major/minor: Politics

The politics major provides a range of experiences in three subfields:  political thought, international relations and comparative government, and American politics. Students frequently minor in one of these areas in combination with other majors, including interdisciplinary programs in Environmental Studies, Ethnic Studies, International Relations, Latin American Studies, and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies.

At Cornell we understand the term “politics” to embrace everything people do that is related to making and enforcing group decisions. Politics includes “government” in the narrow sense that most people use the term, but it is not limited to that narrow sense. Politics addresses practical questions: “Who has power?” “How are governments organized?” “How are decisions made?” Politics also considers the ideas and values -- like liberty, equality, justice, democracy, and law -- that influence how we think about governance.

Ours is a department of political science, but it is also a department of political philosophy and a department of government. We feel a kinship with biology, psychology, sociology, and economics, and also with philosophy, history, and literature. We embrace the broader term “politics” over narrower terms like “government” and “political science” because it better reflects the breadth of our mission and interests.


Our offerings are disciplinary, but they aim to serve the liberal arts as well as the discipline itself. We embrace the College's commitment to creating an environment that is conducive to liberal learning and an appreciation of diversity. Each member of the department offers a different intellectual background, method of inquiry, scope of interest, and conception of what is important in politics. Our professional interests range from public land use policy to global feminism, and from ethics in U.S. politics to Latin American issues.  Learn more about our particular interests and teaching assignments on our faculty page.

One Course At A Time

Cornell's block schedule allows us to routinely blend political theory with real-world practice. With several hours of uninterrupted time each day, our courses are able to explore topics in depth and make use of a wide range of learning activities. For example:

  • Documentary and feature films that are often one and one-half to two hours long. These films can be discussed the same day, or even the same morning.
  • Role-playing simulations that extend for multiple days. Campaigns and Elections devotes 20 hours to a single simulation, On the Campaign Trail, that allows student teams to organize and manage competing campaigns.
  • Field trips to nearby and far away places. Ethics and Public Policy has routinely traveled to national and state capitals for periods of a few days to a week or more. Wilderness Politics takes students for an extended excursion into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  And courses in comparative politics have been taught entirely outside the country -- in China, Nicaragua, and Brazil.
  • Reading or research days where no class is scheduled. Students have independent time to use resources at other institutions, conduct on-site research, or interview during the normal school day.
  • Internships for a block or longer. OCAAT makes it easy for students to schedule credit-earning internships in places like Washington, D.C.
  • Distinguished guests in the classroom. In Current Cases Before the Supreme Court, Federal Circuit Court Judge David Hanson joins Professor Sutherland for a full block. During the course, students use real court briefs to argue before a bank of justices (a teacher and two students) just as lawyers do before the Supreme Court.

The immersion experience enabled by the block plan enhances the benefits of our small class sizes and liberal arts approach. By the end of day two, faculty and students in our courses have interacted together for eight hours, something that would take most of three weeks on a semester schedule. In a day or two students and faculty know each other by name, and a productive learning community has begun.