Center for the History of British Political Thought

In 1984, a National Endowment for the Humanities grant established the Folger Institute Center for the History of British Political Thought. In 1996, an endowment from Dr. Barbara Bradfield Taft assured its future. Further gifts and a bequest from Dr. Taft have strengthened its position. Through a series of carefully plotted seminars, conferences, and publications, the Center has re-mapped the main patterns of discourse in a major political culture over three seminal centuries.

The Center's work to date is represented in print by The Varieties of British Political Thought, 1500–1800, edited by J.G.A. Pocock, with the assistance of Gordon J. Schochet and Lois G. Schwoerer, cofounders of the Steering Committee. The Varieties features essays by the directors of the first comprehensive sequence of grant-funded seminars. Six volumes of "Proceedings" followed from the Center’s 1984–87 programs, as have numerous collections of individual conference and seminar papers. Most recently, British Political Thought in History, Literature and Theory, 1500—1800, edited by David Armitage, marked the proceedings of the Center’s twentieth anniversary conference, a conference which has helped to set new agendas for the Center’s future programs. A series of symposia on “Networks and Practices of Political Exchange in the Early Modern World” have also been instrumental in the charting of new courses for the Center. Most of the volumes have been published by Cambridge University Press in association with the Folger Institute. The Institute maintains a complete list of all Center for the History of British Political Thought programs and Center for the History of British Political Thought publications.

Since the Center's creation by J.G.A. Pocock, Lois G. Schwoerer, and Gordon J. Schochet, its Steering Committee has fostered a number of different agendas in British Political Thought. Linda Levy Peck of The George Washington University replaced Professor Schwoerer on the Steering Committee and served from 1997 through 2016. Current members of the Steering Committee include Chair Nigel Smith of Princeton University, Sharon Achinstein of Johns Hopkins University, David Armitage of Harvard University, Julia Rudolph of North Carolina State University, and Owen Williams (ex officio) of the Folger Institute.