nl en

Challenges to Internationalism: The Evolution of the United Nations


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies programme.


The sustainable development goals launched by the United Nations in 2015 were envisaged to meet contemporary and future global challenges and provide a powerful indication of what our collective human development could look like. This course proposes to bring a historical perspective to students’ understanding of the role of the UN and its contribution to contemporary issues of global governance. In order to understand how the institution may continue to adapt it is pertinent to examine the development of international cooperation, particularly in the areas of international stability, humanitarianism, environmentalism, and human rights. Using the lens of the various agencies within the UN system to examine issues of sustainability allows for a transnational perspective on such global challenges.

The course will begin with an introduction to the origins of the UN and the historical and political forces that shaped it in the post-45 era. Tension between nationalism and internationalism is at the heart of the UN’s history and this will be investigated. To what extent did the cooperation forged during wartime continue to influence the development of ideals? How did the postwar decolonization movements challenge the remnants of ‘imperial vision’ inherent in the new institution? In the Cold War context, how dominant were Western foreign policy aims? The significance of the UN as a historical site for examining intersecting fields of postcolonialism, social movements, population, gender equality, international relations, and environmentalism will be considered. The course will then focus on a number of case studies intended to explore the history of contemporary challenges faced by UN agencies in more depth.

Course objectives

The course aims to introduce students to a historical perspective on the UN. Students will learn about the origins of the UN system and will become familiar with the idea of the UN as a historical site for examining intersecting issues. Students will be able to distinguish and explain connections with contemporary global challenges. Students will be asked to build on the knowledge gained through the course to formulate a well-defined case study for their final report.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the midterm exam week.

Assessment method

Assessment and Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
Progress assignment 25%
Final report 75%

End Grade

If the End Grade is insufficient (lower than a 6.0), or the Final Report is lower than 5.5, there is a possibility of retaking the 75% of the Final Report.
Students who score an overall insufficient grade for the course, are allowed to resubmit a reworked version of the Final Report. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the report and subsequent feedback. In case of resubmission of the report, the final grade for the report will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2021 – 2022.

Exam review and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

Required readings will be made available via Brightspace.


There are limited places available in this minor equivalent, so please send an email to our administration as soon as possible if you would like to enrol for this package. In your email, please mention the name of the package Ecology, Migration and Tolerance: Limits to cooperation?, as there are other packages available as well. We will only offer this to students as a part of their Elective Credits; there is no option of doing these courses as extracurricular courses. Students cannot register in uSis for this course, or be allowed into this course in any other way.



All other information.