In Memory Of Ted Gurr

Distinguished University Professor Emeritus Ted Robert Gurr, a faculty member in the Department of Government and Politics and the Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM), passed away on November 25, 2017. He was a towering figure in the study of civil and ethnic conflict and political violence. 

Reflecting on a prolific career of ground-breaking research, he once noted that "Fear of failure or criticism has never inhibited me from starting off in a new direction." Among his many achievements, Dr. Gurr authored the award-winning books Why Men Rebel (Princeton, 1970, 40th anniversary edition 2010), and, with historian Hugh Davis Graham, Violence in America (Bantam Books, and Praeger, 1969; Sage Publications, 1979 and 1989 eds.). He taught at Princeton, Northwestern and the University of Colorado before joining the Maryland faculty in 1989. He was awarded a Distinguished University Professorship by the University of Maryland in 1995.

An enduring legacy of Dr. Gurr's research was the Minorities at Risk project, which he conceived in 1985, at a time when ethnic conflict was not a major scholarly or policy concern. The project, which has tracked the status and political actions of 300 ethnic and religious minorities world-wide, was and remains based at CIDCM. Since his retirement, it has been directed most recently by Dr. Johanna Birnir. The project's results have been reported in four of his books and numerous articles and chapters, including Peoples Versus States: Minorities at Risk in the New Century (U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 2000). This research also provided the basis for case studies and analyses for Ethnic Conflict in World Politics, coauthored with Barbara Harff (Westview Press, 1994, 2004 eds.). His most recent book on the themes and issues of the MAR project was Crime-Terror Alliances and the State: Ethnonationalist and Islamist Challenges to Regional Security (Routledge 2013), coauthored with Lyubov Grigorova Mincheva of the University of Sofia.

As Professor Emeritus and a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Government and Politics, Dr. Gurr is internationally-recognized for his theoretical, comparative, and historical studies of societal conflict. His career was shaped by several formative experiences, not the least of which was "the eruption of widespread violent protest by urban African-Americans in 1965 and the demands of...the American public for explanations and for ideas about what should be done." His global expertise on societal conflict led Dr. Gurr to a number of positions advising policymakers, first as a staff member of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence established by President Johnson in 1968, and a 1994-2010 appointment as Senior Consultant to the State Failure Task Force, a White House-sponsored empirical study of the precursors of internal wars, genocides, and regime breakdowns since 1955.

Similarly broad in scope is another one of Gurr's projects, the Polity project, which he began in the late 1960s to provide coded information on political institutions for all independent states from 1800 to the present. Since 1998 it has been updated under the direction of Monty G. Marshall, who directs the Center for Systemic Peace, in collaboration with Keith Jaggers of the University of Colorado. The Polity data, which are available online, continue to provide the basis for many scholarly and policy studies of the impact of democracy and autocracy on civil and international conflict.

Since the mid-1980s Dr. Gurr worked collaboratively with Barbara Harff (US Naval Academy, professor of political science emerita), in systematic efforts to identify communal groups that are at risk of victimization. Their policy-linked work in this area includes Early Warning of Communal Conflict and Genocide: Linking Empirical Research and International Responses (United Nations University Press, 1996) and chapters in Preventive Measures: Building Risk Assessment and Crisis Early Warning Systems, coedited by Gurr and John L. Davies (Rowman & Littlefield, 1998). Even though "academic research cannot create the will or means to act," Drs. Harff and Gurr hoped that early warnings would contribute to the kinds of domestic and international policies needed to minimize the risks of humanitarian disasters. Their periodic global assessments of countries at risk of genocide and politicide have been posted on the website of the Genocide Prevention Advisory Network (GPANet), which they helped establish in 2004 with Yehuda Bauer.

At the University of Maryland, Dr. Gurr taught theories and comparative analysis of rebellion and ethnopolitical conflict at the graduate and undergraduate level. He directed or co-directed the dissertations of some 30 doctoral students during his career at Princeton, Northwestern, the University of Colorado, and the University of Maryland.

Dr. Gurr's work in conflict analysis included conflict forecasting using econometric models, evaluation of conflict outcomes, theoretical work on state coercion and violence, the analysis of oppositional terrorism, and the management and settlement of violent conflicts. One of his most recent books on conflict analysis was Political Rebellion: Causes, Outcomes and Alternatives (Routledge 2015), an annotated collection of a half-century of his writings.

International recognition of Dr. Gurr's work included visiting fellowships at the University of Uppsala, Sweden (the Olaf Palme Visiting Professor) and at the Interdisciplinary Program of Research on Root Causes of Human Rights Violations (PIOOM) of the University of Leiden, Netherlands. In 1994-95 he served as president of the International Studies Association. He was the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including a 1988-89 appointment as a Peace Fellow of the U.S. Institute of Peace. In October 2002 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Sofia, Bulgaria. His books have been translated into German, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Thai, Korean, Chinese, and Bulgarian.

Since ''retiring'' from the University of Maryland he had lived in Las Vegas but continued his research, writings, and lecturing with support from a Distinguished University Professorship research fund administered by CIDCM. He also indulged his fascination with the adventuresome social history of his pioneer forebears, for example by annotating and publishing the memoirs of his uncle Will E. Gurr, Coming of Age in the West 1883-1906: From the Mississippi to California and Gold Rusk Alaska with My Minister Father (Amazon, 2011). He was a member of Rotary International, where he was a founding member of the Spring Mountains Las Vegas Rotary Club and recipient of the Paul Harris award.

Memorial and photo courtesy of CIDCM.

Ted Gurr