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A History of the United Nations


Admission requirements

This course is open to Master students.


This course will offer a comprehensive history of the United Nations and looks at the role of international organizations in the history of the twentieth century. Tracing the evolution of the idea of global governance from the League of Nations and the Bretton Woods system the course will examine how the UN was developed as an instrument to construct the international order. It will look at the construction of the different organs of the UN in a range of areas beyond its primary function to preserve international peace and explore the role of institution in the policies and practices which developed out of these functions. The course will consider the multi-dimensional role of the UN in various national and international crises and reconsider the conceptualization of the organization in the international history of the 20th century. It will provide an overview of how the UN helped shape the contours of the contemporary world.

Course Objectives

This course is focused on teaching students to think critically about events, and understand the complexities of how international organizations function and the role they play in international relations. The aim is less to transmit knowledge than develop critical analysis faculties, and to encourage students to assess a situation objectively, form a considered opinion, and defend a position. In addition, students should be able to appraise and analyze secondary literature pertinent to each seminar topic from week to week and be able to think broadly about their position on the issue.


Via uSis and the website. ### Mode of instruction


Assessment Method

Students are expected to:

  • do the pre-assigned readings prior to each class, and participate fully in the discussions. You should bring the readings to class;

  • submit a short discussion paper every week before class (max 1 page) reviewing the main arguments of the pre-assigned readings (no summaries!)

  • submit a proposal for an end of term paper, which contains: research
    question or hypothesis; a 1 page outline, and a preliminary bibliography (deadline: 12 October, 5 pm);

  • write and present end of term paper on a well-defined aspect of the course (max.
    3,500 words) (deadline: 7 or 14 December, 5 pm).


All required reading material will be available on Blackboard.

Reading list

Core texts:

  • The Oxford Handbook on the United Nations, Thomas G. Weiss and Sam Davis, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007.

  • Governing the World, The History of an Idea, Mark Mazower, The Penguin Press, New York, 2012.

  • UN Ideas that Changed the World, Richard Jolly, Louis Emmerij, Thomas G. Weiss (eds.), Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2009


Via uSis.

Contact information

With the coordinator of studies.