Philosophy professor John Watson introduced courses in "political economy" to Queen's in 1877, though he had given a few scattered lectures on the subject even earlier. A separate Department of Political and Economic Science was established in 1889 under Adam Shortt, a Queen's graduate who later helped to found the modern Canadian public service.
The department grew steadily in the following decades with offerings in public administration, business, industrial relations, geography, and sociology, all of which have evolved into separate departments or schools. The department took its present organizational form in 1964, when economics became a separate department at the university.
A deliberate decision was made at the same time to call the department "Political Studies" instead of the more common "Political Science" to reflect the nature of its work more accurately and avoid the claim that its work is "scientific" in the usual sense.
Although the first graduate degree was granted in 1926, it was not until the 1960s that graduate studies became a major activity of the department.
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