Political science as an academic discipline is a relatively new phenomenon, but the origins of the study are ancient. The Greeks, Plato and Aristotle in particular, were the first thinkers to ask political questions in a systematic way, making the possible political topics for a research paper practically endless. One way of narrowing in on a topic is to categorize the different areas with which political science is concerned, such as a particular historical topic in political theory or a specific trend in contemporary life.
The history of political theory is broken down into several stages, with foundations dating back to Ancient Greece. Plato's "Republic" and Aristotle's "Politics" laid the groundwork for the modern conception of politics. Concerned with how to live in the city-state, or "polis," Aristotle was the first thinker to systematically study and categorize political systems. Politics for Aristotle was a "practical" rather than "theoretical" science. Machiavelli and Hobbes represent the shift to the modern concept of political theory and the effort to make it more "scientific." Many core concepts of political theory were developed in the modern period, from the 15th to 19th centuries. Other central figures of this time include Locke, Burke, Rousseau, Mill and Marx. They laid the framework for the contemporary study of politics with themes such as the social contract, the state of nature, democracy and representative government, constitutional law, and the relationship between economics and political systems.
The American experience represents a unique experiment in practical politics. The Founding Fathers were well-read and versed in the political theories and ideas of both ancient and modern thinkers, which in turn provided an opportunity to put political theory into practice. The American political landscape can be thought of as an experiment in developing a democratic and representative form of government, thus presenting a plethora of topics for a political research paper. A few possible ideas include (1) James Madison and the Federalist Papers, (2) the American Constitution, (3) the executive, legislative and judicial division of powers, (4) Alexis de Tocqueville's interpretation of American democracy and (5) the history of American foreign policy.
The study of politics concerns not only the relationship between governmental authority and the people of a particular country or nation, but also the relations between nations. In this sense politics is "international," and can be studied in both a historical and contemporary context. In the former sense, international politics began with the emergence of the nation-state, particularly the European nation-state. The global environment in the 20th and 21st centuries saw the need for international regulating bodies such as the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. The development of the Internet also changed the face and complexion of traditional political boundaries.
Practical Politics and Methodologies
In addition to its theoretical dimensions, political science is interested in the empirical and concrete details of political life, utilizing a number of methodologies and strategies, such as empirical research, hermeneutic approaches, and quantitative studies and statistics, to investigate and analyze political phenomena. Practical concerns that engage political scientists include such topics as voting and election patterns, the influence of media on politics, and economic trends and the formation of political parties.