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Configuring the World


Admission requirements

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


The world is an exciting and diverse place and no two areas are ever the same. But even within areas, there are differences between regions and between groups of citizens. These differences are often described on the basis of numerical measurements, usually aggregated at some higher
level. But even if the numbers carry the same name and classification what do they actually measure and are they strictly comparable?
This course examines various aspects of the world through the medium of global data bases and encourages students (critically) to compare and present experiences in an attractive and comprehensible format. As the course develops, we will use some statistical techniques to combine and manipulate the data sets and to explore causal links between the different phenomena examined and to suggest directions in which that causation may run.
In the first half of the semester the course will examine demographic and national income data as well as composite indices of development, Students will be introduced to data-base management and simple mathematical functions.
In the second half of the semester the course will examine evidence of dispersion within nations in terms of ethnicity, income, language and religion. It will explore whether there are any links between these factors and evidence of development or (good) governance.
Students will be introduced to more advanced statistical techniques including regression analysis and statistical testing.

Course objectives

Students will learn to:

  • Locate and employ datasets

  • Employ statistical functions in SPSS

  • Examine differences between regions and nations at national and sub-national levels

  • Critically evaluate the accuracy and biases in statistical evience

  • Present evidence in a visually effective way

  • Present their findings in a clear and concise English

  • Employ statistical techniques to compare data across time and space

  • Posit hypotheses of causal relationships between phenomena

  • Use statistics to verify or refute statistical relationships


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction

One two-hour lecture per week
One two-hour tutorial every two weeks

Assessment method

Students will compile a dossier of a region of their choice, and a country within that region. The dossier will include all the exercises specified during the lectures but will also employ techniques learned on individually chosen data sets.


Blackboard will be used. Students are requested to register on Blackboard for this course.

Reading list

  • D. Smith, The State of the World Atlas. The Bestselling Survey of Current Events & Global Trends (8th edition) (Brighton: Myriad Editions 2008)

  • Readers


The student administration will register all first year students for the first semester courses in uSis, the registration system of Leiden University. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Students using their own computers will be expected to purchase SPSS (student versions available cheaply through the university)