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War Studies: History, Theories and Concepts


Admission requirements

Only students of the MSc Crisis and Security Management, enrolled in the specialisation ‘War and Peace Studies’, can take this course.


This course will focus on the history of thinking about war, on theories used in contemporary war studies, and on studying concepts that may help us in understanding the complexity of war and warfare. In doing so, the course will put an emphasis on especially the military dimension of international security, and will constantly look at, and incorporate, current events.

In this course students will explore the nature of war, the causes of war, and the use of the military instrument in international relations and the relationship between military power and politics. Students will learn about strategic cultures, and modern (r)evolutions in war and the development of trends and theories in the field of War Studies. As part of the course, students will assess different types of warfare, or threats to peace and security, for instance insurgencies and great power competition, but also cyber operations and at the military dimensions of Peace Support Operations since the early 1990s. In the course the focus will lie distinctly on contemporary conflict, and insights from different fields will be used i.e. IR, Security Studies, (Militairy) History, War Studies that look back further in order to better understand the present.

War Studies: History, Theories and Concepts will further focus on teaching students how to set up, conduct and write a literature review. The purpose of this is to develop the ability to independently gain a comprehensive understanding of the current state of research within the field of War Studies and how to present that knowledge. By critically assessing various concepts, methods and theories on modern war and warfare when reviewing the academic literature, students will be better able to understand the academic debates with respect to War Studies and the challenges we face in understanding contemporary conflict now and in the future.

Course objectives

After finalising this course, students will have acquired knowledge about and the ability to:

  1. Advanced knowledge and understanding of contemporary threats to international peace and security and of the history of war studies and the main trends in (the study of) post-modern armed conflict
  2. A good knowledge of the body of literature on, and various theoretical principles, paradigms and concepts used in, the field of war studies.
  3. The ability to critically, search, sort, prioritise, synthesise and assess the body of knowledge on specific topics in the field of War Studies, including a clear conceptual framework, a comprehensive account of relevant literature and assessment of its quality, a discussion of fundamental debates and gaps in knowledge, and a succinct synopsis.
  4. Students will be able to present the results of an individual research project in the form of a written academic report (the literature review).
  5. The ability to stay informed of the key issues and concepts arising from scholarly debates in relation to contemporary war and warfare
  6. Identify and evaluate key disciplines, theoretical frameworks and, and value their applicability for assessing different contemporary international security challenges
  7. The ability to self-evaluate and reflect after interactive in-class work and (individual) assignments.


On the right side of programme front page of the studyguide you will find links to the website and timetables, uSis and Brightspace.

Mode of instruction

The course will consist of a combination of (guest) lectures and workgroups (two sessions per week).

In the lectures, students will learn the history of war studies, the main theories and methodologies used in war studies and the key concepts used in war studies. In the workgroup sessions, students will discuss contemporary issues in war studies in groups and work on individual and small-group basis to collect and review relevant literature. The workgroups will consist of in-class research activities, team performances, peer review and exercises that will help students prepare for the summative (graded) assignments.

Attendance is mandatory. Students are only allowed to miss more than one lecture if there are special, demonstrable personal circumstances. The Board of Examiners, in consultation with the study advisors, will decide on such an exceptional exemption of mandatory attendance.

In this 10 ects course, 4 ects is specifically reserved for the assignment that is going to be part of the portfolio of students. Specific information on the portfolio assignment and the intended learning outcomes that are being acquired will be published in the syllabus of this course.

Total study load: 280h
Contact hours: 42h (sessions)
Self-study (reading, preparing lectures, assignments, etc.): 238h

Assessment method

Assessment for this course is based on:

Formative Assignment
Mandatory but not counting towards the final grade.

Group assignment

  • 20% of final grade

  • Re-sit not possible

  • Grade can be compensated in case of a fail (< 5.50)

Literature review

  • 50% of final grade

  • Grade must be 5.5 or higher to pass the course

  • Re-sit possible

  • Re-sit will take the same form but may be different in terms of topics, cases or substance.

final essay

  • 30% of final grade

  • Re-sit not possible

  • Grade can be compensated in case of a fail (< 5.50)

Additionally, formative (non-graded) assignments are an obligatory part of the course.

The calculated overall course grade must be at least 5.50 in order to pass the course. If the calculated overall course grade is lower than 5.50, students are also permitted to resit the 50% final paper.

In the case of written assessment methods, the examiner can always initiate a follow-up conversation with the student to establish whether the learning objectives have been met.

Transitional arrangements
Passed partial grades obtained in the year 2022-2023 remain valid in the year 2023-2024.

Reading list

A selection of books and articles, to be announced on Brightspace. The corresponding Brightspace course will become available in the week prior to the first seminar.


Register yourself via MyStudymap for each course, workgroup and exam (not all courses have workgroups and/or exams).
Do so on time, before the start of the course; some courses and workgroups have limited spaces. You can view your personal schedule in MyTimetable after logging in.
Registration for this course is possible from Wednesday 12 July 13.00h

Leiden University uses Brightspace as its online learning management system. After enrolment for the course in MyStudymap you will be automatically enrolled in the Brightspace environment of this course.

After registration for an exam you still need to confirm your attendance via MyStudymap. If you do not confirm, you will ultimately be de-registered and you will not be allowed to take the exam.

More information on registration via MyStudymap can be found on this page.


prof. dr. Frans Osinga