International Relations of the Twentieth Century

University of Queensland

Course Description

  • Course Name

    International Relations of the Twentieth Century

  • Host University

    University of Queensland

  • Location

    Brisbane, Australia

  • Area of Study

    International Relations

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Prerequisites

    Recommended Prerequisite


  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • Host University Units

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Course Description
    This course examines the evolution of international relations from 1900 to the present, and is intended to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the key developments that have shaped world politics and the discipline of international relations. This course is particularly targeted at students of international relations (IR), and provide those students with knowledge about the evolution of IR as a discipline, a sense of the relationship between IR theory and the major dynamics/ events of world politics, and provide context to the examination of contemporary world politics. Each week of the course, therefore, attempts to link key developments in world politics to the emergence/dominance of particular frameworks for thinking about international relations.
    Course Introduction
    As students of international relations in the early 21st century, no doubt each of you will have an inkling that the world in which you live has been shaped most immediately by the hundred years that went before. You might be familiar with the roll-call of the 20th century?s ?big? events such as the World Wars, the Holocaust, the Cold War, US Hegemony and so on. Living in the shadow of the former century, you may feel as if it exhausted all political possibilities and extremes, so that the future will be much the same as the world we live in now, albeit with less experimentation and violence. As students of IR in this century, why do we find it difficult to imagine an alternative future? The students of 1914 could have never imagined the world in which we live now, even less that their futures would be so dramatically altered by the war that began in June that year. They would have shared very different expectations and aspirations about the future of world order, so how can we from our current vantage point be so confident that little will change? The fundamental questions behind these observations are why was the 20th century so important for international relations, and how does it shape the way we think about what?s next? These are big questions, and a good way to begin to unpack them is to arm our critical faculties with history. As such, my aim in this course is to get you to reconsider what the 20th century meant for international relations, to be therefore better equipped to think about the future.
    This course is organised with respect to large-scale historical ?moments? over the course of the century and each week we reflect upon the extent to which each moment is indicative of deeper currents in the history and practice of international order. To frame our discussions in IR theory, we will ask questions like:
    • How was membership of the international system determined, and by whom?
    • What were the ordering mechanisms that enabled the system to endure? What role did institutions play?
    • Can collective values and purposes be ascribed to the system itself? How widely were they shared? And who had(has) the responsibility for reaching these shared goals??
    In selecting the topics for inclusion, I have sought to avoid the trap of framing the 20th century from a North-Atlantic and/or exclusively European view. Of course, these elements are a significant part of the story, however, one of the most revealing factors of the 20th century was the way in which international relations became fully globalised ? it came to incorporate the interests of many more states and other political actors. Therefore, I have sought to frame the narrative of the century in broad plural terms, to draw attention to the rise and fall of different versions of ?progress? and ?right?, including those peculiar to the liberal world order.
    There are three reasons why this approach is a useful way to rethink the significance of the 20th century. For one, it offers a less Euro/Western-centric view, and therefore allows us to interrogate events that happened outside this purview. After all, the Cold War was not the only event that occurred during the Cold War (!) Second, by placing the development of the liberal world order in context, we can directly the major contradictions in its historical trajectory, ask whether it was thought to be inevitable, and assess its resilience ? for instance, did the order successfully manage to accommodate major ideological challenges? Finally, this perspective helps us to overcome some of the limitations of historical periodisation (the extent to which we try and condense the ?meaning? of an historical time frame). Therefore, in this course instead of looking for one single zeitgeist to explain international relations of the 20th century ? such as ?the century responsible for the liberal world order?, we look for what Gallagher and Greenblatt (2000: pp.7,8) refer to as ?luminous detail?whereby we attempt to isolate significant or ?interpreting detail? from the mass of traces that have survived?. Over the course of the semester, we will experiment with creating an ?antizeitgeist historical reconstruction? (Ghamari-Tabrizi, 2012: 268) of the 20th century, and incorporate our insights within IR.
    Learning Objectives
    After successfully completing this course you should be able to:
    • Comprehend the major events and trends that shaped international politics in the twentieth century;
    • Understand how these events and trends have shaped key debates within international relations scholarship concerning the causes of war and the strategies for preserving, maintaining and defending international peace and security;
    • Appreciate the ways in which the defining events and trends of the twentieth century have shaped and will continue to shape the contemporary international order.
    • The ability to demonstrate acquired conceptual and analytical capacities, along with an ability to apply these skills to understand concrete social, political and historical processes in international relations.
    Class Contact
    2 Lecture hours, 1 Tutorial hour
    Assessment Summary
    Tutorial Participation: 20%
    Mid-Semester Essay: 45%
    Final Exam: 35%

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Eligibility for courses may be subject to a placement exam and/or pre-requisites.

Some courses may require additional fees.

Credits earned vary according to the policies of the students' home institutions. According to ISA policy and possible visa requirements, students must maintain full-time enrollment status, as determined by their home institutions, for the duration of the program.