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In Memoriam: Ted Robert Gurr

In Memoriam: Ted Robert Gurr

December 1, 2017Staff Reports

A pioneer in the field of political conflict and instability, Dr. Ted Robert Gurr recently passed away. Professor Emeritus and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, he frequently collaborated with fellow START researchers and worked on the START project “Turning to Terrorism: Ethnic, Religious and Extremist Organizations” as well as the “Minorities at Risk” project, which he founded.

The following information comes from his biographical page on UMD’s Department of Government and Politics website.

"Fear of failure or criticism has never inhibited me from starting off in a new direction," he said when reflecting on his prolific career of ground-breaking research on civil conflict and political violence. Among his many achievements, Gurr wrote 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 and Northwestern Universities (where he was department chair), 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.

Gurr's philosophy also underlies 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 worldwide, was and is based at the University’s Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM). Since his retirement it has been directed by GVPT faculty Jonathan Wilkenfeld and, most recently, Johanna Birnir. The project's results have been reported in four of Gurr’s books and numerous articles and chapters, for example in 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 is 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.  Prof. Mincheva was one of his Ph.D. advisees at GVPT.

As Professor Emeritus and a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Government and Politics, Gurr is internationally-recognized for his theoretical, comparative, and historical studies of societal conflict. His career has been 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 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, available www.systemic peace.org, 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, 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," Harff and Gurr said they hoped that early warnings will 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 are posted on the website of the Genocide Prevention Advisory Network (GPANet), which they helped establish in 2004 with Yehuda Bauer.

At Maryland, 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.

Gurr's work in conflict analysis has included conflict forecasting tests 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.  His most recent book on conflict analysis is Political Rebellion: Causes, Outcomes and Alternatives (Routledge 2015), an annotated collection of a half-century of his writings.

International recognition of Gurr's work includes 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 is 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.

After “retiring” from the University of Maryland, he lived in Las Vegas but has continued his research, writings, and lecturing with support from a Distinguished University Professorship research fund administered by CIDCM.  He also has 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 is a member of Rotary International, where he is a founding member of the Spring Mountains Las Vegas Rotary Club and recipient of the Paul Harris award.