The Study of War Project Goals and Design

The TISS Study of War Project was launched in 1994. Its purpose was to determine if the Triangle Institute for Security Studies (then known as TUSS) should embark on a major interdisciplinary project along the lines of the magisterial study of Quincy Wright.  The principal investigators thought that the time was ripe to summarize, and advance, the state of human understanding about war as it existed at the turn of the millennium. Although participants eventually decided against investing in a further ten year collaborative effort, the project did result in some remarkably interesting conferences.  {See opposite for summaries] The project proved rewarding for graduate students and encouraged them to study and understand war from their respective disciplinary perspectives and to participate in interdisciplinary scholarship of the most sweeping kind. It also did much to inform the thinking of scholars in our community who took back to their respective disciplines new insights and methodologies.

The Quincy Wright Study

Shortly after World War I, University of Chicago Professor Charles E. Merriam convened faculty from the departments of anthropology, political science, psychology, and sociology to discuss research on the causes of war.  Quincy Wright, an authority on international law and international relations, summarized the results of the meeting for the Social Science Research Committee of the University.  Wright then became chair of a Committee on the Causes of War, which supervised 25 research assistants, mostly graduate students, over the next seven years to undertake a systematic compilation of what was then known about the causes of war.  Additionally, students in other fields and faculty members outside the original group prepared manuscripts on subjects relating to war. In all, 66 studies were prepared.  Of these, 45 were accepted as master’s theses or doctoral dissertations at the University of Chicago.  Ten were published as books, some of which, like Harold Lasswell’s World Politics and Personal Insecurity and Bernard Brodie’s Sea Power in the Machine Age, became classics on their own.  Wright communicated the results of the studies in a series of lectures in 1933 and 1934, which became the basis of A Study of War, first published in two volumes in 1942 and republished with an updated bibliography in a single volume in 1965.  A Study of War still stands alone, a classic of interdisciplinary scholarship, which in a single volume presented comprehensively a summary of knowledge about one of humanity’s most troubling and intractable problems.

The TISS Project

As the 20th century drew to a close, it seemed as if the time might be ripe to undertake another comprehensive and authoritative treatment of war.  On the one hand, scholarship had improved dramatically since the Quincy Wright Study. On the other hand, as a problem for humanity, war promised to be as threatening as ever.  Assembling knowledge about war, and advancing research in the various disciplines, promised to be not only intellectually rewarding, but to of concrete benefit to statesmen and publics throughout the world. To determine whether or not TISS should invest in such a study, TISS sponsored ten one-day workshops.  The goal of each conference was to assess the state of knowledge of a particular discipline and learn how scholars educated in different disciplines and subjects approach three interrelated sets of questions about war:  its causes, origins and functions; its nature or process; and its impact on individuals, groups, societies and nations.  The culminating event was the 1996 summary interdisciplinary conference. A leading scholar from each discipline was invited to attend and submit his/her paper for publication in a volume. Participants were also invited to discuss whether or not funding should be sought for a ten-year collaborative study of war.

The Principal Investigators anticipated three results from the Study of War Project. (1) First, they planned to produce a synthetic volume on the model of Wright’s A Study of War, updated to reflect the latest scholarship in all disciplines. (2)  Second, they hoped that the project would prove rewarding for graduate students and encourage them to study and understand war from their respective disciplinary perspectives and to participate in interdisciplinary scholarship of the most sweeping kind. (3)  And third, they hoped to inform a whole community of scholars who would take back to their respective disciplines new insights and methodologies with which to investigate this most important human phenomenon.