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Elective: What is this War About Anyway?: Armed Conflicts in the Twentienth Century


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies who have succesfully completed the second year elective course.
The number of participants is limited to 25.


The course investigates military conflicts by looking at them from perspectives that are different from the dominant North Atlantic viewpoint. It takes a case-study approach, with attention devoted to World War I and II, the Korean conflict, the Vietnam War and the different Gulf Wars. World War I is approached through the prism of the Ottoman Empire and the colonial empires; World War II from the viewpoint of Japan, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany, the Korean War as seen from the North, the Vietnam War as seen from Southeast Asia, and the Gulf Wars as experienced by Iran.
Rather than being a course in military history, the focus is on the way these armed conflicts were interpreted: What was war about? This question in itself can be split into two: the perception at the time (contemporary to the conflict) and the way it is remembered now.
Structure of the course
Students are expected to read all of the reading assignments, taking the questions that have been set as guide. They are then required to post their answers to these questions as comments in Blackboard 24 hours before the class.
Each week two or three student-moderators will have the task to go over these answers and formulate new questions or statements, which are then discussed with the students in class. They will be assigned this task at the beginning of the course and be excused from posting answers for that particular week.
Each week the class will consist of an opening lecture of 45 minutes by the teacher, followed by a 15-minute break. The second part of the class will consist of 30-minute discussions by the students in separate groups. The conclusions of the discussions will be presented in the final 15 minutes of the class.
In March the students will be required to come up with a short (1-2 paragraphs) proposal for their term paper, including a bibliography. To avoid an extreme unbalance between the different topics (e.g. half the students choose the Vietnam War) we will accept a maximum of four students per topic. Students will also be free to propose a topic based on a comparative research involving two-three different lectures.
During the second half of the semester there will be two tutorial meetings with the students to support them in writing the term paper. This is also to ensure that they start on time. The papers are written on the basis of (part of) the literature listed under Further Readings for each week. Once the papers are in, students get feedback plus a provisional grade on the basis of their draft and the option of handing in a revised version two weeks after they get the feedback. If the result of the draft is a fail, students are obliged to resubmit.

Course objectives

To make students aware that the way major armed conflicts of the Twentieth Century have been experienced and are remembered differ widely from country to country and region to region. All of the wars studied had a global impact, but that impact varied a great deal for different parts of the globe. Students gain a deeper insight into the conflicts studied as well as in the mechanisms that produce meaning and affect memory.
The elective courses for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the interdisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.
Academic skills that are trained include:
Oral presentation skills:
1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
c. using up-to-date presentation techniques;
d. aimed at a specific audience;
3. to actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.
Collaboration skills:
1. to be socio-communicative in collaborative situations;
2. to provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position;
3. adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.
Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:
1. to collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques;
2. to analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability;
3. to formulate on this basis a sound research question;
4. to design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved;
5. to formulate a substantiated conclusion.
Written presentation skills:
1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
c. using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;
d. aimed at a specific audience.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website

Mode of instruction

Lecture, seminar style discussion and 3000-word term paper.

Course Load

Total course load for the course = 10 EC (280 hrs), broken down by:

  • Hours spent on attending classes: 2 hours per week x 12 weeks = 24 hours

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature and completing weekly assignments: 8 hours per week x 12 weeks = 96 hours

  • Time to write a paper (including reading / research): 160 hours
    10 EC (280 hours)

Assessment method


Weekly assignments, and a term paper of approx. 3000 words (excluding tables and bibliography). The term paper needs to be handed in by June, 1st.


Weekly assignments/participation: 30 %; term paper 70 %.

To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following: the final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.

To pass the course, the weighted average has to be 5.5 at least.


In case of resubmission of the final essay (insufficient grade only) the final grade for the essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion. The deadline for resubmission is 10 days after receiving the grade for the final essay.


Blackboard will be used. For tutorial groups: please enroll in blackboard after your enrolment in uSis
Students are requested to register on Blackboard for this course.

Reading list

The booktitles and / or syllabi to be used in the course, where it can be purchased and how this literature should be studied beforehand.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Prof. Dr. E.J. Zurcher


The deadline for submission of the final essay is 9 June 2017.

The course is taught by leading area studies specialists from Leiden University.