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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.
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

Each week, students are expected to read all of the reading assignments in Blackboard, 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 short 5-minute discussions by the students in separate groups on the basis of questions put forward by the student moderators of the week, which then form the input for a general discussion.

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

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

Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the midterm exam week. This course includes supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for this course is 10 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), this equals 280 hours, broken down by:

  • Attending lectures: 2 hours per week x 12 weeks = 24 hours

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature and completing weekly assignments: 96 hours

  • Writing the final research essay (including reading / research): 160 hours

Assessment method

Assessment & Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
Participation, consisting of weekly postings on Blackboard as well as contributions to the discussion in class 50%
Final research essay (+/- 3,000 words) 50%

End grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the end grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted the final paper on time, but scored an overall insufficient mark, are entitled to a resit. For the resit, students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the final paper.
In case of resubmission of the final essay (insufficient grade only) the maximum possible final grade for the essay will be a 6.0. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the final essay.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2017 – 2018.

Exam review

How and when an exam review takes place will be determined by the examiner. This review will be within 30 days after official publication of exam results.


Blackboard will be used for tutorial groups. Students are requested to enroll on Blackboard for this course, but only after correct enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

Reading packages for each week, consisting of primary and secondary texts, will be made available on Blackboard before the start of the course.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis can be found here.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof. Dr. E.J. Zurcher

When contacting the lecturer, please include your full name, student number and tutorial group number.


The deadline for submission of the final essay is 15 June 2018.