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Last modified: Wednesday, March 30, 2011

William R. Thompson

Distinguished Professor

Distinguished Professor and Donald A. Rogers Professor of Political Science
Department of Political Science
College of Arts and Sciences
University Graduate School
Indiana University Bloomington
Appointed to IU faculty, 1991
B.A., University of Washington, 1968
M.A., University of Washington, 1969
Ph.D., University of Washington, 1972

William Thompson

William Thompson

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Top scholars in the scientific study of international relations spare no superlatives in describing the work of William R. Thompson. He is described as the rare scholar who has transformed entire fields of inquiry, not once but several times. Colleagues say that his extraordinary productivity is matched by the breadth and impact of his research and writing.

Thompson joined the Indiana University faculty after stints at Florida State University, Claremont Graduate School, and the University of California, Riverside. Much of his research involves the use of quantitative methods to study longterm patterns of change in the global system.

A pioneer of a school of thought called the "long waves" approach, he has focused particularly on theories about the importance of technological change and the rise of new industries as a major factor in politics.

His record of publication is remarkable. He is the author or co-author of 16 monographs published by leading presses; editor or co-editor of nine highly regarded scholarly anthologies; and author or co-author of 92 peer-reviewed articles, including multiple publications in each of the top journals in political science; and author or co-author of 69 chapters or published essays.

"For a social scientist, this is a staggering volume of output, and its impact is beyond dispute," says Russell Hanson, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at IU Bloomington. "Since he completed his dissertation in 1972, 190 works of Bill Thompson have been cited collectively more than 2,500 times. . . . The totality of Bill's work is even more influential. . . . No other living scholar matches the depth, breadth, and volume of Bill's publications in the field of international relations."

In the early stages of his career, Thompson made his mark as an expert on military coups. Taking a regional approach, he showed that coups are "contagious," that they sometimes spread from one country to another. Later he focused on seeking better understanding of conflicts between nations.

Two books that he published in 1988, Sea Power in Global Politics, 1494-1993 (with George Modelski) and On Global War, remain widely cited classics. Thompson's War and State Making (1989, with Karen Rasler) is "one of the best books in international relations since 1948," according to John Vasquez, Thomas B. Mackie Scholar in International Relations at the University of Illinois.

Causes of War (2010, with Jack S. Levy) is certain to become his most cited book; and The Arc of War: Origins, Escalation, and Transformations (also with Levy, scheduled for publication this year) "synthesizes and extends all of Bill's previous scholarship, and will probably be his magnum opus," Hanson says.

Thompson has trained and mentored numerous graduate students and performed generous service to the profession—he is in his second five-year term as editor of the prestigious International Studies Quarterly, and he served as president of the International Studies Association (ISA) in 2005-06.

As ISA president, writes Executive Director Thomas Volgy, Thompson "committed himself to the association as he has to everything else: unmatched in quantity and quality of contribution."

He has also contributed to the field by serving on the editorial boards of 16 scholarly journals. He currently sits on the boards of eight journals.

Thompson has received many awards and grants throughout his career. In 2004 he was awarded ISA's prestigious Quincy Wright Distinguished Scholar Award.

All in all, Thompson's contributions to the field have made him a world leader in the scientific study of international relations.