History of the Department of Political Science

Late 1929 marked the onset of the Great Depression which was to cause serious hardships for people, businesses and governments all over the world. In the Dominion of Newfoundland, this worsened a political crisis that would result in the end of self-government within five years, and which later on saw divisive referendums resulting in Newfoundland becoming Canada’s 10th province in 1949. It was amidst this political instability that Political Science was first taught at Memorial.

Growth of the Department

The first political science course at what was then known as Memorial University College was offered in 1929. Within five years there were five such courses which were only distinguished by a single digit (e.g., "Political Science 2"). By 1947, a course titled “Governments of the British Commonwealth” was offered, and by 1950 the course list was expanded to include “Introduction to Political Science,” “The British System of Government,” and “The Canadian Government.” In the mid-1950s, Memorial University's Department of Economics and Political Science was split into two departments, resulting in an expansion of Political Science courses. (Of note, later that decade in March 1959, students marched to the Newfoundland legislature, the Colonial building, in support of the Joey Smallwood provincial government’s objections to John Diefenbaker’s federal government’s refusal to provide more funding under Term 29 of the 1949 Terms of Union with Canada.)

In 1967, the Department of Political Science was created, and a period of expansion along broader, more “modern” lines began. New staff members hired in the 1970s—including one in the new Grenfell College campus in Corner Brook—added strength in comparative politics, political behaviour, political philosophy, and local government. During this time the department moved from the old “Temporary Buildings” (portable buildings where the QEII library is now) to its present location on the second floor of the Science Building.

A broadly based undergraduate (Bachelor of Arts) curriculum was developed during this period. Initially, the department sought to offer students the “standard quartet” of undergraduate teaching: Canadian politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory (a political behaviour stream was later added, then was replaced with public policy in 2009). Our courses are currently divided into four numbering levels. At the 1000-level, students are exposed to knowledge and skills that are useful for understanding politics and government, and the context in which political decisions are made. Courses at the 2000-level introduce students to the major areas of the discipline by raising questions, surveying substantive knowledge, and discussing methodological approaches. At the 3000-level, a wide range of topics are dealt with in depth, and some previous knowledge is assumed. Courses at the 4000-level are advanced seminars, either bringing together several approaches or fields of knowledge within the discipline, or focusing on specific problems. Since at least the mid-1990s enrollment in our courses and the number of degrees awarded have both been increasing.

Our graduate program began in 1970 with an initial concentration on Newfoundland and Atlantic Canadian politics. Memorial’s first two Master of Arts degrees in Political Science were conferred in 1973. Today, our M.A. degree has a broader focus, and is offered by full-time or part-time study. The number of applicants has been increasing since the mid-1990s and the program now attracts students from around the world.

Our optional work placement option has been particularly popular. Undergraduate internships and graduate internships allow students to apply their Political Science skills in the workplace while gaining career-related job experience. Positions are regularly filled with organizations such as government departments, political parties, and advocacy groups. Weekly internship placements have been offered at the undergraduate level since the late 1990s and four-month paid graduate positions since 2004.

Students may also choose to participate in one of our study abroad semesters in Europe. The most prominent of these has been spending a semester studying at Harlow, UK which we have offered since the late 1990's. In addition to day-trips to London, excursions to cities such as Belfast, Brussels, Dublin and Edinburgh are organized.

The Department has equally focused on conducting research. In addition to performing independent research, faculty members have contributed to government-sponsored and multidisciplinary studies. In the 1940s, sections were prepared for a survey entitled "Newfoundland: Economic, Diplomatic and Strategic Studies" for the Royal Institute of International Affairs. In the early 1970s, the head of the Department coordinated the Commission on Municipal Government in Newfoundland and Labrador (known as the "Whalen Commission"), which played a critical role in defining a new vision for municipal restructuring in the province. More recently, faculty members have participated in Royal Commissions (e.g., health care, federalism) and in major interdisciplinary studies (e.g., Coasts Under Stress, European integration, municipal restructuring, the Atlantic Regional Training Centre).

Faculty members have always played a key role in informing critical public debates. In 1934-35, A.M. Fraser delivered an address titled "The New Deal for India" on radio station VOGY. In 1945-46, a series of evening public lectures were offered on the principles of government, as were citizenship study groups. In recent years, public sessions have been organized to discuss general elections, and guest speakers have delivered presentations on topics ranging from electoral reform to the governance of Iceland. Faculty members also regularly provide commentary about political events covered in the news.

Past Faculty Members

Over the years a number of political scientists have helped build the department while engaging in funded research, teaching courses, and performing an array of university and community service. Past faculty members have included:

Allan MacPherson (A.M.) Fraser taught the college’s first Political Science course in 1929. By 1934 he was teaching five such courses, distinguished simply as 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. In 1939, when he was a a Professor in History and Economics, he wrote a paper titled “Government by Commission in Newfoundland” and prepared a review of “Dictatorship in Newfoundland”. In 1953 he was elected as the Liberal Member of Parliament for St. John's East but was defeated in 1957.

Moses Osbourne (M.O.) Morgan began teaching Political Science and Economics in 1950. He went on to hold various positions in the university, including President from 1973-1981. In 1997 a memorial in his honour was unveiled on campus on the QEII library’s third floor.

In 1962 Susan McCorquodale began her 37-year career with the department, teaching courses such as public administration, Newfoundland politics and constitutional law. A memorial scholarship is now awarded annually in Dr. McCorquodale’s honour.
D.J. “Jerry” Murphy became a member of the department in 1964 and taught for nearly 35 years.

Hugh Whalen was a specialist in Canadian public administration and public policy who was the first Head of the Department. Professor Whalen chaired the Royal Commission on Municipal Government in Newfoundland (1973-75) and played a significant role in restructuring the provincial public service under Premier Moores’ administration.

Gunther Hartmann was a member of the department from 1968 to 2000. An international relations specialist, he fostered the development of the MUN chapter of the Model United Nations, which now gives an annual award in his name to the best delegation during the final plenary General Assembly. A memorial scholarship is also awarded by the University annually in Dr. Hartmann’s honour.
Mark Graesser was a faculty member from 1970-2000. He was noted for rigorous, “hands on” courses in empirical methods, which included an active program of survey research and statistical analysis of election data. These provided a basis for the study of public opinion and elections in Newfoundland. Graesser also directed major opinion surveys for the Royal Commissions on Local Government (1974) and Education (1992).

Peter Boswell’s career as faculty member spanned some 32 years until his retirement in 2007. Dr. Boswell is a specialist in municipal government and Newfoundland politics. He authored The Municipal Councillor’s Handbook and produced a weekly column on politics for the St. John’s Evening Telegram (1988-1998). In retirement he is writing a book about Newfoundland elections.

Bill McGrath was a member of the department during a similar period as Peter Boswell and retired in 2008. Dr. McGrath’s research initially focused on Soviet politics and later looked at nationalism in the development of Canadian foreign policy.

Michael Wallack was a member of the department from 1970-2011. He taught political theory, political behaviour, international relations (arms control and crisis diplomacy) and American politics. He was among the first in Canada to offer a course in feminist theory and (with Gunther Hartmann), to use an internet based simulation of an international law of the sea conference as the basis for a course in international relations. He served on the MUNFA negotiating committee during three contract negotiation sessions where his interest in strategic bargaining was put to practical use.

Over the years, Heads of the department have included Professors Boswell, Graesser, Hartmann, McGrath, and Whalen, as well as Dr. Steven Wolinetz and Dr. David Close. However for many students, the face of the department has been our friendly administrative staff. Departmental secretaries such as Rosemary Rose, Sharon Foss, Doreen Hutchings, Hilda Wakeham, Ruby Bishop, and Helen Knapman have helped thousands of students over the years in an efficient and professional manner.


Many of our students have gone on to successful careers in academia, party politics, various levels of government, law and journalism. Graduates have gone on to complete PhDs, to operate businesses, and to run non-governmental organizations. In politics, our alumni include Members of Parliament, Premiers, Cabinet Ministers, Members of the House of Assembly, and political staffers. In the bureaucracy, our graduates have gone on to hold positions ranging from the Clerk of the Executive Council to policy analysts. What will you become?