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Comparative and Historical Social Science (Certificate and Cluster)

The Comparative and Historical Social Science (CHSS) Cluster and Certificate Program is an interdisciplinary initiative co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science and the Department of Sociology. The program supports graduate training among students interested in comparative and historical research by providing: 

  • A common coursework structure integrated with students’ departmental curricula.
  • Resources for student research, including travel abroad.
  • Interdisciplinary venues to present work in progress and to receive feedback from faculty and fellow students.
  • Opportunities for collaborative research. 

The program features a core group of faculty internationally renowned for comparative and historical research. CHSS adopts a distinctive set of methodological and theoretical tools for studying the political and social world. It gives students essential training in theory, methods, and substantive knowledge in a way unusual for U.S. universities, even those with nationally recognized programs in CHSS. Read more on the CHSS website.

All CHSS fellows work closely with one or more faculty advisors. Faculty advisors from outside the student's home department are permissible and encouraged, and students construct their program in consultation with their advisor(s).

Programs and events

There are many different ways for faculty and students to participate in the intellectual life of the cluster. Many cluster events, such as visiting lecturers and conferences, are open to all members of the University. Cluster seminars are open to graduate students across the University. We encourage all students, faculty and staff of Northwestern to learn more about our research and activities by participating in our public events.

Who should apply?

Doctoral candidates from any field are eligible to apply to join this intellectual “home” outside their department. Past participants have come from the following programs:

  • Comparative Literary Studies
  • English
  • French and Italian
  • German Literature and Critical Thought
  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Religion
  • Slavic Languages and Literatures
  • Spanish and Portuguese
  • Sociology

How to apply

The cohort will include incoming and current students who wish to participate in program activities.

Prospective students interested in participating in this program should indicate their interest when they apply to their respective graduate programs, and select students will be invited to apply to CHSS Program. 

Current graduate students interested in participating in this program should contact Professor Ann Shola Orloff.

Who to contact

Please contact the program director, listed below, with questions about this program. Or, explore the CHSS website for more information.

The following requirements are in addition to, or further elaborate upon, those requirements outlined in The Graduate School Policy Guide.

All Comparative and Historical Social Science (CHSS) fellows are Ph.D. candidates in either political science or sociology and therefore must complete all of the standard requirements of their chosen department. On top of that, they use five elective courses to complete the course requirements for this program. (In the Political Science Department this required course sequence replaces the departmental “second minor” requirement.) These course enable students to develop competencies in theoretical approaches to social change and continuity, especially with reference to politics; in comparative and historical methods; and in the substantive analysis of particular cases.

To receive certification, students must complete five CHSS courses in addition to their core departmental requirements. At least one of these five courses must come from each of the following three areas.

  • Interdisciplinary, Substantive Expertise. Students develop expertise on substantive topics relevant to their research interests (either about specific areas of the world or specific arenas of political and social life), in consultation with their advisors. At least one course must be taken from outside the student’s home department (including in history, anthropology, and other departments beyond sociology and political science, or at other universities which are members of the CIC). These courses are intended to ensure that CHSS students develop substantive interdisciplinary expertise in their area of research.
  • Theoretical Competence. Students will develop an understanding of the theories and analytic tools of both sociology and political science, and will take at least one course in this area outside of their home department.  Courses may be focused on temporal analysis, historical sociology, theories of comparative politics, historical-institutional analysis, contemporary social theory or other topics approved by the CHSS advisor.  (This is in addition to the theory requirements of political science or sociology.)  Among current elective offerings in political science and sociology, the following courses would qualify:  POLI SCI 480 (Political Economy:  Theory and Methods); POLI SCI 490a (Theories of Institutional Origins, Stability, and Change); POLI SCI 490b (The Politics of Antonio Gramsci); SOCIOL 439 (Comparative and Historical Sociology), SOC 476 (Topics in Sociological Theory). Theory courses from other departments might also be used to meet this requirement, but only with the approval of a CHSS advisor.
  • Methodological Competence. Students must develop competency in at least one mode of comparative and/or historical analysis, taking at least one course focused on such methods or logics of inquiry.  This course may be focused on methods of small-N comparative analysis, methods of historical analysis, methods of archival and documentary analysis, or other topics approved by the CHSS advisor.  (This is in addition to the methods requirements of political science or sociology.)  Among current elective offerings in political science and sociology, the following courses would qualify:  POLI SCI 408 (Historical Methods in the Study of Politics); POLI SCI 490c (Methods of Comparative Analysis); SOCIOL 410 (Comparative Methods). This requirement can also be filled by courses outside of political science and sociology with the approval of a CHSS advisor.

In addition to the five required courses, students must meet the following requirement:

  • Linguistic Competence. Students are expected to develop whatever language skills are necessary for their research projects, and are encouraged to learn another language that might facilitate international comparative research and collaboration. Language courses, however, do not count toward the five required CHSS courses.

Non-course requirements

Fellows also develop their interdisciplinary skills by participating in a number of fora sponsored by the program, CICS, and CCHA:

  • CICS Fellows. Students become fellows at the Center for International and Comparative Studies (CICS) and will participate in events and meetings linked to the CHSS program at CICS.
  • CCHA Workshop. Students attend and participate in a bi-weekly Workshop on Comparative and Historical Analysis sponsored by CCHA and held at CICS, Sociology, or Political Science (see below for more on the relationship to the Center for Comparative and Historical Analysis).
  • Quarterly Meetings. The full body of CHSS advisors and students meets once a quarter for discussion, debate, and sociability. At least one of these meetings will be a proposal writing workshop for third and fourth year students.