The History of Political Science at UMaine

The University of Maine has offered courses in government and politics for more than a century.   A University of Maine catalogue in the 1920s listed, for example, courses in constitutional law, international law, state and local government, foreign governments, American government and American diplomacy.   The courses were offered in a Department of History and Government, chaired by Dr. Caroline Colvin (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) whose field was medieval history. Incidentally, Dr. Colvin was the first woman in the nation to head a major university department.

In 1932, Dr. Colvin was succeeded by Edward F. Dow (Ph.D., Harvard), a native Mainer who had previously taught at Dartmouth College.  His primary field was American state and local government.  Dow guided the Department of History and Government until 1966.   A hallmark of Dow’s tenure was the creation of programs that enabled students to gain practical experience in politics. A friend of several Maine politicians, he started the congressional internship program in 1957, in which students spent a semester in  Washington, D.C. as staff members in the offices of members of the Maine congressional delegation. Dow also helped develop the international affairs interdisciplinary program for student interested in careers in that field.  Those two programs continue today.

After Dow’s retirement, the Department of History and Government was divided into separate units  The new Department of Political Science began in 1966  under the leadership of Dr. Eugene Mawhinney, a graduate of the University of Maine who had earned a Ph.D. in constitutional law from the University of Illinois.  Under Mawhinney, the Department’s faculty grew, and new courses were added in the four principal areas of political science: American government, comparative governments, international relations and political theory.   The number of political science majors rose to approximately 100 students per class, and it remains an extremely popular major today.

The faculty of the Department of Political Science have won numerous recognitions.  Ours is one of the very few departments on campus to have had five members as recipients of the Distinguished Maine Professor Award:  Walter Schoenberger (1963), Robert Thomson (1969), Eugene Mawhinney (1982), James Warhola (2002), and Rich Powell (2020).  Faculty members’ publications have gained the Department a national and international reputation.  Students often take part in research projects with professors. Each year a substantial group of graduating seniors are initiated into Pi Sigma Alpha (the national political science honors society). Many seniors continue their education through law schools and other graduate programs. A significant number of our departmental alumni have pursued careers in the Maine state executive branch, in the Maine legislature, in Maine municipal governments, and in the federal government.