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The Centre – originally called The Centre for the History of Political Thought – was founded in 1997, in memory of Henry Tudor, Senior Lecturer in Politics, who died while on a visiting professorship in the United States. The idea was first proposed by Dr R.W. Dyson, a former student of Henry Tudor’s. The other founding members were Dr Ian Adams, Dr Julia Stapleton, and Dr Peter Stirk.

Appointed to the department in 1962, Henry Tudor had established the study of political thought as a central part of the Durham politics curriculum. Under his guidance, the Department of Politics (as it then was) became one of the few university departments in the UK where students were able to explore the historical continuity of European political cultures by engaging with the whole range of political ideas from the ancient world down to the twentieth century. The Centre was created in the first instance to foster research, to host two annual lectures to be given by distinguished visiting speakers – the Henry Tudor Memorial Lecture and the Alan Milne Memorial Lecture – and to publish, in collaboration with Thoemmes Press, a series of scholarly editions called Primary Sources in Political Thought.  

The Centre has developed to accommodate contemporary political philosophy alongside the history of political thought and changed its name to the ‘Centre for Political Thought’ to reflect this expansion in focus. Many of the centre’s members span both parts of the center’s remit: bringing historical ideas to bear on contemporary dilemmas.