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The Making of Modern International Relations



This course examines the origins and development of the modern international system, with a particular focus on the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The primary purpose of the course is to help students make sense of current debates about contemporary international relations, particularly questions around the decline of the nation state and the erosion of sovereignty. More broadly, the course will give students the means to reflect critically on how we have come to live in the world we know, and on how we can theorize the possibility for large-scale shifts in international relations. We will notably assess the value of common benchmark dates (including 1492, 1648, 1789, and 1919), evaluate the importance of empires in the making of the modern world, and map out the main historical disjunctures that changed the face of international relations. At the end of the course, we will consider the claim that we live in a postmodern world order and try to determine what—if anything—is indeed specific to the international arena of our lifetime. Profoundly interdisciplinary, this course draws on the work of international relations theorists, historical sociologists, global historians, and historians of international law, diplomacy, and war.

Course objectives

Students in this course are expected to engage with a broad range of readings and to develop their own assessment of each theme. The course consists of a series of seminars focused on extensive student discussion. Each of these bi-weekly seminars is based on a question regarding the development of modern international relations, which students keep in mind as they are doing the reading and then discuss in class under the guidance of the instructor. As such, by the end of the course, students will have familiarized themselves with debates about the evolution of international relations throughout the modern period; they will have acquired various tools to assess the international relations theories they encounter in other courses; they will be able to locate their areas of specialized interests (e.g. power politics, international law, international security) within their broader historical context; and they will have practiced formulating their own ideas within important academic debates.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

  • 28 hours of classes (attendance is mandatory)

  • 140 hours of reading and class preparation (20 hours per week over 7 weeks)

  • 40 hours to prepare for the midterm examination

  • 72 hours to complete the research essay
    Total: 280 hours

Assessment method

Participation (30%)
Midterm in-class examination (essay questions) (30%)
Final research paper* (40%)
The final research paper will only be graded if the student has attended the seminars.
The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average. The resit is only available to students whose mark on the final examined element—the research essay—is insufficient.


Course information will be accessible via Brightspace before the start of the course.

Reading list

The reading list and the course syllabus will be posted on Blackboard before the start of the course.


See Preliminary Info

This course is earmarked for the specialisations PLJ, NECD and IP