Foundations of the Contemporary International System, 1815 – 1920

Course Description: 

This course will examine the historical foundations of the contemporary international system to provide a new vantage point from which to evaluate present-day international relations.  Specifically, the course will examine the roots of contemporary international politics in the “Global Transformation” of the nineteenth-century – to use the term of Buzan and Lawson –that witnessed nothing less than a fundamental shift in the nature of international politics and the international order.  IR scholarship has long used certain dates to mark foundational moments in the development of international politics, be it 1492, 1648, 1919, 1945 or 1989. This class makes the argument that as important as the events tied to any of those dates may be for contemporary international relations, far more formative are global processes and transformation that developed globally over the course of the hundred years from roughly the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the end of World War I. 

Learning Outcomes: 

• to develop a nuanced understanding of how historical and historiographical debates can and do shape our understanding of International Relations both as field of study and as a discipline.
• to be able to identify the processes that have led—and indeed still lead—to certain ways of thinking about power and politics.
• to gain new perspectives on many of the basic assumptions prevalent in the discipline of International Relations
• to apply this knowledge to the development of academic research projects.


Attendance and Participation 10%
Presentations 10%
Response Paper 1 (500 words) 15% To be submitted at the latest before class on Feb. 10.
Response Paper 2 (500 words) 15% To be submitted at the latest before class on Mar. 27.
Project Proposal and Annotated Bibliography 20% (2x 1,000 words, Due Monday, February 26 @ 23.59)
Final Paper 30% (5,000 words, Due Friday, April 6 @ 23.59)