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Public Diplomacy: History, Theory, Practice


Admission requirements

Required course(s):


Recommended course(s):

  • Intro to International Relations and Diplomacy


In the last couple of decades, public diplomacy has become a catch-phrase to refer to how nation-states reach out to, interact with, and try to influence global publics. They do this in order to enhance their reputation, further their economic interests, and promote their political agendas. Public diplomacy is also about building coalitions and networks as a way of enhancing traditional foreign policy tools.

This course will examine the history of public diplomacy through the twentieth century, looking at how nation-states developed it and which tools they used to practice it. Two key developments have contributed to the rising importance of public diplomacy. Firstly, public scrutiny and awareness of foreign policy has increased, partly motivated by the expansion of global media outlets. Secondly, advances in communications technology have affected how diplomacy is conducted, and what is expected of Foreign Ministries and diplomats. More effort needs to be made to display the purpose and achievements of diplomacy to critical publics.

The course will examine in detail particular aspects of public diplomacy strategy, such as sport, military ‘swaggering’, exchange programmes, and world fairs. It will also consider how public diplomacy, in a changing global environment, has become more important in relation to diplomacy as a whole. This has been further illustrated by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on international relations, and the ways in which certain nation-states have profited from how their responses to the pandemic have been perceived abroad.

Course Objectives

  • To understand the relationship between diplomacy and public diplomacy

  • To gain insight into the history and development of public diplomacy

  • To appreciate the importance of public diplomacy and image management within current-day global affairs

  • To develop a critical perspective when reading and analysing texts, source materials, and online environments

  • To be able to organise an independent research project, based on a research question, and complete a clearly-written research paper

  • To be able to formulate clear arguments in discussion and debate


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2021-2022 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course will be conducted as a seminar-style class, involving sustained responsibility for the students in terms of reading, research, discussion and debate, and writing. A considerable amount of reading is required per week, and the class relies on everyone keeping up to date. Guest lectures will be provided on specific subjects, and it is essential to come prepared in order to interact fully with these experts.

P2P Assignment
This Pitch to Peer assignment requires each student to create a personal document on the relevance of public diplomacy within international relations. This should make use of a specific example(s) and be in the form of either a Video, Poster, Image Series or Slideshow.

PD in Practice: Report
The course involves interaction with public diplomats as guest lecturers and/or, when possible, a site visit to an embassy in The Hague, hosted by the local diplomats. The students will be required to write a report on this interaction, analyzing the way the respective public diplomats and/or embassy present themselves and their particular national narrative.
Analytical Report
This asks the student to search for and choose a particular public diplomacy strategy conducted by a particular nation-state or non-state actor, and write a report on its main features: types of communication; evident value-system; identifiable goals; judgement of impact.

Class Discussion Session
For five or six of the classes, students will be asked to set up and lead discussion on the class topic. This will involve groups of around three students working together to collect and review relevant materials, deliver a short opening presentation on the subject, organize / motivate the rest of the group in a discussion, and make use of additional media. A collectively produced short report covering the main points of the presentation, the questions asked related to the subject, and the results of the in-class discussion will complete the assignment.

Assessment Method

a) Class Discussion Session 20%
b) Pitch2Peer Project 20%
c) PD in Practice: Report (+/- 1500 words) 30%
d) Analytical Report (+/- 1500 words) 30%

Reading list

Material will be provided via Blackboard.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,