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A History of the United Nations


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA International Relations. Students who are interested in taking this course, but who are not admitted to the mentioned master programmes are requested to contact the co-ordinator of studies.


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.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

  • 24 Hours of classes (attendance is compulsory)

  • 120 hours of reading and writing of reviews (5 hours per week over 12 weeks)

  • 60 hours to prepare and complete literature and document analyses

  • 30 hours to prepare presentation

  • 46 hours to complete the final essay

Total: 280 Hours for 10 ECTS

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;

  • write and present end of term paper on a well-defined aspect of the course (max. 3,500 words). The end term paper will only be graded if the student has attended the seminars.


  • Class attendance and participation 10%

  • Literature review 30%

  • Security Council Simulation 30%

  • Draft Resolution Paper 30%

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


The resit for the final examined element is only available to students whose mark of the final examined element is insufficient.

inspection 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 organized.

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.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Contact information

Mw. Dr. D.M.S.M. Natermann