In recent months, a document was discovered in the Swarthmore College Archives revealing that the first known Peace and Conflict Studies course in higher education, “Elements of International Law with special attention to the important subjects of Peace and Arbitration” was offered by Professor William Penn Holcomb in 1888 at Swarthmore College. Thus, this year, we are celebrating 125 of the origins of peace and conflict studies in higher education!
Pioneering Peace Studies
By Sherri Kimmel
Swarthmore College Bulletin, July 2013
That Swarthmore College was an early proponent of peace and conflict studies should come as no surprise to those familiar with the College’s dedication to Quaker values. However, the recent discovery of an article published 125 years ago indicates the College was the first college or university to offer an actual peace-studies course.
Lee Smithey, associate professor of sociology and peace and conflict studies coordinator, announced the distinction at a gathering this spring, reading from an 1888 article that was republished from The Peacemaker (the organ of the Universal Peace Union) in The Friends Intelligencer. Christopher Densmore, curator of the Friends Historical Library, discovered the article and shared it with Smithey.
The article praised the College’s new course in peace and arbitration as “an eventful era in the peace movement of the 19th century. To thus drill, as it were, for peace is to hasten the abolition of war and the military system. All credit to Swarthmore! This example will go round the world.”
Though Swarthmore launched the first course, peace and conflict studies as a discipline “didn’t take off for another 60 years,” says Smithey. Manchester College, founded in Indiana by another historic peace church, the Church of the Brethren, formed the first program in 1948.
According to Smithey, peace and conflict studies programs have gained momentum in waves—after the World Wars and the Vietnam War, and in the 1980s and ’90s, when concern over the proliferation of nuclear arms grew. Now, there are peace and conflict studies programs at about 400 institutions. Swarthmore’s program began in 1991–92 and has 30 students enrolled as minors, honors, or special majors, Smithey says.
The program draws courses from a range of social science and humanities departments at Swarthmore and the other campuses of the Tri-College consortium and explores the causes, practice, and consequences of collective violence as well as peaceful or nonviolent methods of dealing with conflict.
Says Smithey of the College’s new distinction, “Swarthmore College was ahead of its time, and 125 years later, we still hold these values as we seek to advance our knowledge about constructive conflict and just and peaceful relations.”