nl en

Challenges to Internationalism: The Evolution of the United Nations


Admission requirements

This course is open for all students that are enrolled in the Minor Ecology, Migration and Tolerance: Limits to Cooperation.


The sustainable development goals launched by the United Nations in 2015 were envisaged to meet contemporary and future global challenges and provide a powerful indication of what our collective human development could look like. This course will bring a historical perspective to students’ understanding of the role of the UN and its contribution to global governance.

The course will begin by examining the development of international cooperation in the interwar era, before discussing the origins of the UN and the historical and political forces that shaped it after 1945. Tension between nationalism and internationalism is at the heart of the UN’s history and this will be investigated. To what extent did the cooperation forged during wartime continue to influence the development of ideals? How did the postwar decolonization movements challenge the remnants of ‘imperial vision’ inherent in the new institution? In the Cold War context, how dominant were Western foreign policy aims?

Throughout we will consider how the UN has been analysed in academic literature; as a “historical site” (Amrith & Sluga, 2008), as a “borderland” (Sayward, 2017), or using the concept of the “Third UN” (Carayannis & White, 2021) to include the involvement of non-state actors in the knowledge and norm production of the UN. The course will conclude with a number of case studies intended to explore the history of contemporary challenges faced by UN agencies, such as humanitarianism, environmentalism, and human rights, in more depth.

Course objectives

Students will learn about the origins of the UN system and will become familiar with the idea of the UN as a historical site for examining intersecting issues.

Students will be able to distinguish and explain connections with contemporary global challenges.

Students will have the opportunity to build on the knowledge gained through the course and apply it to a well-defined case study.

Students will become familiar with the methods and archival sources relevant to conducting research on international organisations


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Eight lectures and four seminars.

Assessment method

Assessment and Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
In-class assignments 40%
Final Essay 60%

End Grade

If the End Grade is insufficient (lower than a 6.0), or the Final Essay is lower than 5.5, there is a possibility of retaking the 60% of the Final Essay.
Students who score an overall insufficient grade for the course, are allowed to resubmit a reworked version of the Final Essay. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the essay and subsequent feedback. In case of resubmission of the essay, the final grade for the essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2023 – 2024.

Exam review 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 organised.

Reading list

To be announced. Readings will be accessible via the Library Catalogue and/or Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.



All other information.