Princeton creates international institute for research and teaching


Princeton NJ -- This summer, the University launched a new institute to conduct collaborative, interdisciplinary research and teaching on issues of global importance and appointed Latin American studies scholar Miguel Centeno as its first director.

Miguel Centeno  

Miguel Centeno


The Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS) will bring together faculty and undergraduate and graduate students across the University to engage in research, curricular and extracurricular projects that will enrich established international curricula. It was co-created by the University and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Centeno is a professor of sociology and is on the faculty of the Program in Latin American Studies. His scholarly work is in the areas of Latin American society and politics, political sociology, historical-comparative sociology and societies in transition.

The creation of the institute was the culmination of 18 months of discussion and work initiated by President Tilghman. The institute will replace both the Council on Regional Studies, an interdepartmental organization of regional study programs, and the Center of International Studies, a research group within the Woodrow Wilson School. Its role will be shaped by a executive committee made up of faculty members from a variety of disciplines.

Centeno described the institute's mission and activities during a recent conversation with Steven Barnes, director of media relations in the Woodrow Wilson School. To read the news release on the creation of the institute, visit <>.

Why was PIIRS formed?

Princeton was already doing great work with curriculum, with research and across a variety of disciplines. What we weren't doing is linking these efforts in a systematic way. PIIRS is about connecting the dots between faculty research and student seminars, between those studying Turkish and those looking at Mediterranean foreign policy, between a visitor writing a book on border disputes and a senior writing a thesis on the Berlin Congress of 1878.

What is the relationship between the Woodrow Wilson School and PIIRS?

A very close one. First, institutionally, PIIRS is the product of a partnership between the WWS and the rest of the University. More importantly and substantively, one of the critical missions of PIIRS is to combine what we might call empirical expertise with theoretical acumen, or better yet, a scholarly perspective with one more oriented toward policy outcomes. My view is that policy folks and academic types have a lot to teach and learn from each other and PIIRS will be a place where that should happen.

What departments will participate? What faculty and students will be involved?

We see ourselves open to any and all departments and members of the community with an interest in international and regional topics. Obviously, the classic social sciences and history will play a critical role, but we also want to include other humanities and sciences. For example, an expert on ethics may be able to help an ecologist better coordinate research with a host region, or a geologist might make a great partner for a political scientist studying nationalization of oil. I certainly want to make appreciation of geographical and historical context easier for an abstract theorist while also giving the regional expert exposure to a broader set of trends.

How will PIIRS contribute to the curriculum at Princeton and the Woodrow Wilson School? To policymaking?

We are already co-sponsoring a set of courses for next spring including one on Afghanistan and another on Korea. These offerings will expand dramatically in the coming years. Obviously we will serve as a resource for departments, faculty and students who simply need support to make a course happen.

But we also want to generate new ways of teaching relevant topics. One possibility that we are currently exploring with the dean of the college's office is to introduce one or two regions to students through a focus on a particular policy debate. So for example, rather than a standard introductory course into a region, you would take a course that compared how two or three regions dealt with immigration or environmental damage.

As to policymaking, I cannot imagine a better contribution on behalf of the University than making sure that those making decisions are as well prepared as we can make them.

How might faculty collaborate as part of PIIRS?

A major innovation of PIIRS will be allowing faculty -- and students -- a critical voice in how the majority of the money is spent. We will serve as a "venture capitalist," providing administrative support and financial resources to those with new ideas and projects. In this way, there are no limits on how faculty will participate -- it will be very much their institute.

What activities, projects or events will PIIRS sponsor?

Some of this will really be up to the kinds of ideas that the faculty wish to pursue. But right now, our shopping list includes at least a dozen courses, eight to 10 visitors a year, several conferences and research projects, and a series of faculty seminars that will explore the latest scholarly trends in particular areas or topics.


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