About us

Hedley Bull Building

The Department

The Department was established in 1949 with two goals: first, to provide Australia with an academically rigorous investigation of the leading events and issues in world politics, and second, to communicate that academic understanding to government to improve how Australia engages with the world. As such we have always faced outward towards the world whilst remembering our unique position in Canberra and the opportunities and obligations that flow from that position.

As it has evolved, the Department has been home to some of the leading thinkers of the discipline ‒ Hedley Bull, Coral Bell, JDB Miller, TB Millar, John Vincent, George Modelski, James L. Richardson, Geoffrey Jukes, Arthur Lee Burns, Carsten Holbraad, John Ravenhill, Christian Reus-Smit. This heritage, unparalleled in Australia, has infused the Department with a keen sense of purpose to advance not only the appreciation of events, but also to use those stories to advance discipline-leading theoretical debate.

Today’s Department and its staff are animated by four key concerns:

  • Advancing our understanding of the key theories and concepts of disciplinary International Relations;
  • Doing justice to the stories of the many peoples and states of the Asia-Pacific region;
  • Ensuring that these stories are developed into a conversation with global political trends; and
  • Making sure that the relationship between the regional and the global is used to build and renew the conceptual and theoretical tools that characterise the discipline.

Some of the key questions that our staff are currently researching include: How can we reappraise the historical evolution of the key concepts of world affairs? What does the rise of Asia mean for our understanding of the key concepts and practices of international relations? What will the future of existing military alliances be? What roles will the countries and regions of the Asia-Pacific play in the future and how can we understand these stories? What is Australia’s role regionally and globally not only in the politics of international affairs but as a joint architect of the regional and international order?

The quality of the Department’s response to these concerns and questions is evidenced through a record of academic excellence in book publishing (university/leading commercial press, single-authored monographs), academic articles (highly ranked discipline and area focused journals), grant success (from both the Australian Research Council and external funding bodies within and beyond Australia), and a full schedule of public events, seminars, and workshops.

Today the Department executes its functions not only in research and outreach but, equally importantly, in the education of the next generation of scholars, policymakers and informed citizens in Australia, the Asia-Pacific region, and the world. Whether it is at the undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral level, the Department’s education offerings equip those students with the skills necessary to make a lasting positive contribution.

You can learn more about the history of the IR Department by reading James L. Richardson’s short memoir, James Cotton’s Working Paper and George Modelski’s article.

Heads of Department

1950‒1952 Sir Walter Crocker
1952‒1958 Sir Michael Lindsay
1958‒1960 Leicester Webb
1959‒1961 Arthur Lee Burns
1961‒1962 George Modelski
1962‒1987 JDB Miller
1967‒1977 Hedley Bull
1988‒1991 James L. Richardson
1991‒1998 Andrew Mack
1998‒2000 John Ravenhill
2000‒2001 Greg Noble
2001‒2010 Chris Reus-Smit
2010‒2015 William T. Tow
2016‒ Mathew Davies

Research program

The Department currently has sixteen academic staff, with expertise covering international theory, international security, and international political economy, as well as a broad range of other issue areas, including human rights, environmental politics, international institutions and organisations, regionalism, human security, alliance politics, and Australian foreign policy. In all of our research we bring a regional focus to the study of global politics.

The Department’s research expertise is recognised internationally, and our staff serve on the editorial boards of many of the world’s leading journals and book series. Our staff have also enjoyed considerable success in winning competitive national and international grants.

National role

Consistent with the mission of The Australian National University, the Department has long played a national role in advancing the study and practice of international relations in Australia.

We have helped to establish international relations as a discipline in this country by educating a significant number of Australian academics in the field. We have also consolidated our international connections by welcoming visiting fellows and graduate students from around the world.

The Department runs a busy program of conferences and research workshops, providing the basis for a vigorous publishing program. Australia’s leading journal in the field of international relations, the Australian Journal of International Affairs, has also been edited for several periods within the Department.

The Department has a strong commitment to public engagement on issues of national importance. Our staff are frequently invited by government agencies to give lectures and contribute to policy-making as subject-matter experts.

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