Yale’s prominence in international and area studies has its roots in the earliest days of the University, with early missionaries trained at Yale who worked in Asia and around the world. Yale had one of the first faculty chairs in a non-Western language, Sanskrit, the root language of much of contemporary South Asia. The seeds of a proud Latin Americanist tradition were planted in the early 1900s, with the appointment of Hiram Bingham in 1906 as a professor of history and archaeology who subsequently brought Machu Picchu and Incan civilization to Western attention. At the very beginning of the twentieth century, Yale awarded one of the first U.S. Ph.D.s to an Asian-born scholar, Ken-ichi Asakawa, who later became a distinguished professor of Japanese history and languages at Yale, retiring in 1942. There was an institutional presence for world area studies at Yale as early as the 1930s. Paralleling area studies, Yale’s scholarly strength in international relations grew in the interwar years with the then highly innovative and interdisciplinary Institute of International Studies. This institute, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation as well as corporate and alumni sponsors, established the first interdisciplinary Ph.D. program at Yale.

During World War II, these parallel academic streams were combined into a formidable set of training programs, geared largely to the needs of the U.S. military in the languages, culture, history, and economics of different parts of the world. After the war, these programs grew into a variety of freestanding interdisciplinary faculty councils with notable strengths in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Russia and Eastern Europe. These interdisciplinary councils were tied loosely to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences with resources overseen by the provost. Area studies and international relations efforts at Yale enjoyed support from major foundations, notably the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation. Faculty with interests in Africa formed a council in 1958. With the passage of the National Defense Education Act in 1958, these language and area studies programs also received additional support from the federal government.

In the early 1960s the University created the Concilium on International and Area Studies with its first director, Professor Arthur Wright. The Concilium’s main purpose was to coordinate and support the efforts of the area studies councils and the remaining activities of the former Institute of International Studies. Some of the councils had organized master’s degrees in their respective area studies, and the Concilium’s faculty director administered the remnants of faculty research support from the Institute and, supported by political science faculty with Institute Ph.D.s, also administered the interdisciplinary M.A. in International Relations. The Concilium’s faculty director was appointed by the provost and, in turn, he nominated the faculty chairs of the constituent councils to be appointed by the dean of the Graduate School. In 1968 the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies faculty initiated its undergraduate major, following the majors that the older councils had established earlier. In the 1970s the Council on Middle East Studies and the Committee on Canadian Studies were established within the Concilium. By the middle of the 1970s the Council on Southeast Asia Studies had abandoned its master’s program, unable to withstand the stresses associated with the U.S.-Vietnam War.

In the early 1980s the Concilium was further streamlined and given a new name, the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, with William Foltz, Heinz Professor of African Studies, as the first director. After a major fundraising campaign to fulfill matching obligations, YCIAS regularized its control over and procedures for allocating the eight Ford Foundation faculty chairs to various departments when vacancies occurred. With Title VI and alumni support, YCIAS also built up the M.A. in International Relations and was a founding member of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs. Title VI also provided pivotal support for building council programs, and library and language resources, in African, Latin American, East Asian, and Russian and East European Studies. Council-based outreach programs also began to professionalize programs and staff, establishing a tradition of robust summer institutes for teachers. In 1989 the Fox International Fellowship began as a graduate and faculty exchange with Moscow State University.

In the early 1990s, under the directorship of Gaddis Smith, the Larned Professor of History, YCIAS launched the South Asian Studies Committee, several research initiatives, and a new international, interdisciplinary undergraduate major in International Studies. In 1994 the Fox Fellowship expanded to include graduate students to and from Yale and the University of Cambridge’s Sidney Sussex College. Despite such vibrancy, being spread across campus in four different buildings constrained YCIAS from reaching its full potential. By the end of Professor Smith’s directorship, YCIAS and the University had solved the space problem, and YCIAS moved into Henry R. Luce Hall in 1995, well positioned for dramatic growth of its programs. Made possible by an extraordinary gift from the Luce Foundation, Luce Hall provided 40,000 square feet of class and seminar space, an auditorium and a common room, and offices for staff, faculty, and visiting scholars. In 1995 the faculty created the International Affairs Council, comparable to the area studies councils, to provide interdisciplinary faculty oversight of the largest degree programs at YCIAS—the M.A. in International Relations and the International Studies undergraduate major—and begin to build a larger research and faculty-student community of interest focused on cross-cutting global and international themes and issues. Related research initiatives—International Security Studies and United Nations Studies—were incubated at YCIAS and spun off. With the growing presence in Yale College, the YCIAS director’s appointment was shifted to the president at the recommendation of the provost; in turn, the faculty chairs of the constituent councils were appointed by the provost at the recommendation of the director.

Beginning in 1996, under the leadership of Gustav Ranis, Frank Altschul Professor of International Economics, YCIAS programs grew and deepened. They received strong support from Yale’s president, Richard Levin, who had made the internationalization of Yale’s research and curricula a top University priority. The international and area studies councils and their degree programs were revitalized, in part, by taking up the challenge of addressing problems comparatively across world regions. A new interdisciplinary undergraduate major in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration began, supported by American Studies and the International Affairs Council. YCIAS motivated and channeled faculty interest by enabling a variety of special interdisciplinary research programs and initiatives to address a range of emerging issues of global, international, and national scope including, for example, Crossing Borders, Globalization and Self-Determination, International Political Economy, European Union, Central Asia, Hellenic Studies, and the Center for the Study of Globalization.

The creation of the University Center for Language Studies (CLS) in 1998 provided YCIAS a strong partner. Its pedagogic support made it possible for YCIAS to directly offer languages—including Hindi, modern Greek, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Zulu, Swahili, and Yorùbá—and oversee language faculty through the councils. With Title VI and other resources, YCIAS and several councils partnered with CLS to launch Directed Independent Language Studies to enable students to learn critical languages not normally taught at Yale. The Fox Fellowship also expanded to include five new partners: Freie Universität Berlin, Fudan University in Shanghai, Institut d’études Politiques de Paris, El Colegio de México, and Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. Overall resources for YCIAS tripled in six years with yeoman fundraising efforts. Beyond faculty research, teaching programs, and publications, visiting scholar numbers grew from four to sixty per year, and student grants and fellowships for overseas research and study also expanded, especially for undergraduates. This growth spurt culminated in securing three additional YCIAS Interdisciplinary International Professorships.

In July 2004, Ian Shapiro, Sterling Professor of Political Science and chair of the department, succeeded Professor Ranis. He has challenged the faculty to build the research and teaching enterprises around three broad sets of issues: Identity, Security, and Conflict; Democracy Past, Present, and Future; and Justice and Distribution at Local, National, Regional, and Global Levels. In fall 2004, Professor Alec Stone Sweet was appointed Leitner Professor of International Law, Politics, and International Studies, one of six international, interdisciplinary professorships sponsored by the MacMillan Center.

In 2005 three new universities joined the Fox International Fellowship Program: University of Cape Town in South Africa, Bogaziçi University in Istanbul, and Tel Aviv University in Israel. Beyond the core interdisciplinary research and teaching missions of the councils and research programs, YCIAS began to support policy-focused efforts, including the launch of a new cluster of policy courses to deepen the M.A. in International Relations. Six new graduate certificates were launched to enable students to tap the expertise of the YCIAS councils to ensure a solid international foundation in their specialized degrees from across the University. In recognition of YCIAS’s University-wide role, the director’s term was expanded to five years in parallel to deans of the colleges and schools at Yale, and the first YCIAS Bulletin was added to the University’s official series.

In April 2006 YCIAS was renamed the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale. With the naming, the University reaffirmed its commitment to strengthen and increase the senior faculty to sustain and continue building strength in international and area studies.

In spring 2007 the South Asian Studies major was unanimously accepted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and was added to Yale’s list of majors in the fall of 2007. South Asian Studies—which became the first completely new major added to Yale’s list since Cognitive Science in 1999—is offered only as a second major and is administered by the MacMillan Center’s Council on South Asian Studies. In fall 2007 two additional International Interdisciplinary Professorships were filled. Professors Giovanni Maggi was appointed Howard H. Leach Professor of Economics and International Affairs, and Thomas Pogge became Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs.

Less than one year after the South Asian Studies major was added to the curriculum, Yale College faculty members voted unanimously in February 2008 for the creation of a new, interdisciplinary Modern Middle East Studies major. Students could declare the major beginning in the 2008–2009 academic year. The Modern Middle East Studies major, spearheaded by members of the Council on Middle East Studies at the MacMillan Center and professors in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department, largely consists of existing courses offered in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Political Science, History, and other departments relating to the Middle East. The Universidade de São Paulo joined the Fox International Fellowship Program in 2008, bringing Yale and twelve elite institutions into a robust graduate student exchange. In fall 2008 the MacMillan Center concluded its search for the fourth International Interdisciplinary Professor in the person of Marcia Inhorn, the William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs. In fall 2009, Professor Steven Wilkinson was appointed Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, filling the fifth International Interdisciplinary Professorship of the MacMillan Center.

In October 2008 the MacMillan Center launched an Internet show called The MacMillan Report on its Web site at macmillanreport.yale.edu. The MacMillan Report is done in a one-on-one interview format and features Yale faculty in international and area studies and their research. Hosted by Marilyn Wilkes, public affairs director at the MacMillan Center, the show airs on Wednesdays at noon during the academic year. Each segment runs between 15 and 20 minutes long. The goal of The MacMillan Report is to showcase the innovative work that the Yale faculty affiliated with the MacMillan Center are doing, and to share this impressive body of research with the Yale community as well as with the rest of the world. To date, more than one hundred Yale faculty members have been interviewed and can be viewed in the archive section of the Web site.

In August 2009 the MacMillan Center augmented its office and classroom space with the addition of two new facilities to allow for growth beyond its main home in Henry R. Luce Hall at 34 Hillhouse Avenue. Rosenkranz Hall, at 115 Prospect Street, was completed to provide an elegant new home for the Political Science department. Built in an L-shape around Luce Hall, Rosenkranz shares a courtyard with Luce, and its west wing houses several MacMillan Center programs. In addition, the MacMillan Center added a North Wing at 230 Prospect Street that accommodates several programs, the business office, and additional meeting space.

In April 2009 Yale received a gift to establish the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at the MacMillan Center. Under the leadership of James Levinsohn, Charles W. Goodyear Professor in Global Affairs, the institute was inaugurated in Rosenkranz Hall in the fall of 2010. It offers courses for students in all of Yale’s schools who are interested in global affairs, and provides career advising services for any student who wishes to pursue a career in global public policy, diplomatic service, or with international agencies. The Jackson Institute also assumes responsibility for the University’s core teaching programs in the area of contemporary international affairs, elevating the master’s program in International Relations, which became Global Affairs in 2013, and deepening the undergraduate curriculum with a new stand-alone major in Global Affairs as of 2011–2012. The new major builds on the strong foundation provided for more than fifteen years by the International Studies major, which graduated its last class in May 2012. The Jackson Institute serves as a center for discussion through active programs of research, public lectures, and conferences. In July 2015 it transitioned from the MacMillan Center into an independent organization.

The Fox International Fellowship marked its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2013. In 2014 the University of Ghana became the thirteenth Fox Fellowship university partner, and the network has since expanded to include universities in Singapore (National University of Singapore), Canada (University of British Columbia), Australia (Australian National University/University of Melbourne), and Denmark (University of Copenhagen/Copenhagen Business School), bringing the total of world-renowned partner universities to nineteen.

The Political Violence FieldLab, devoted to the study of political violence and its effects on combatants and civilians in wartime, joined the MacMillan Center in 2015.

In March 2016 the MacMillan Center announced that it would guarantee an international research fellowship to all Ph.D. students in the humanities and social sciences in the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

In January 2017 the Program on Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Humanitarian Responses was launched by the MacMillan Center to promote rigorous interdisciplinary research and teaching grounded in the social sciences that can inform best practice and sound policy and have a meaningful impact on the lives of people affected by forced displacement.

The MacMillan Center added three programs under its auspices in 2018: the G-Econ project, Y-RISE, and the Translation Initiative. The purpose of the Geographically based Economic Data Project (G-Econ) is to develop a geophysically scaled economic data set. This data is merged with other important demographic and geophysical data and is helpful in environmental and economic studies of energy, environment, and global warming. The goal of the Yale Research Initiative on Innovation and Scale (Y-RISE) is to develop the science behind scaling up effective interventions, define that emerging research agenda, and scale-up a few promising interventions in the process. Y-RISE is building a new research network and will host academic network meetings and conferences, connect researchers to implementing partners, and make seed grants to develop new research. Its research will have direct policy implications and will publicize and advocate the policy lessons learned, advancing efforts to bring the most good to the most people. Finally, the Translation Initiative is an interdisciplinary program that promotes the study of translation’s impact in various literary, social, political, business, legal, technological, and medical practices throughout the world. Working with linguists, librarians, computer scientists, business executives, and health care professionals, the Translation Initiative conducts research, presents educational programs, and encourages education in translation at Yale and beyond.

The Fox International Fellowship at the MacMillan Center expanded its global network of partner institutions in 2019 to include the University of San Andrés, Argentina, bringing the total of its world-renowned partner universities to 20. 
Steven I. Wilkinson, the Nilekani Professor of India and South Asian Studies and a professor of political science and international affairs, was named the next Henry R. Luce Director of the MacMillan Center and began his new post on July 1, 2019. Wilkinson replaced Ian Shapiro, Sterling Professor of Political Science, after 15 years of service.