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History, Race and Empire in the Study of International Relations


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA International Relations.


The study of International Relations (IR) is currently witnessing a ‘historical turn’. Historians of the discipline are increasingly pointing to its racial and colonial origins. If the ‘I’ in IR was actually Imperial, not International, as this scholarship suggests, how does it affect our understanding of the discipline and the world it attempts to interpret?
Informed by these debates, this course will offer a critical reading of the disciplinary history of International Relations (IR). It will engage with questions of science, race and empire in the study of IR and scrutinize the development of the field of IR as a social science discipline.
In the first part of the course, we will look at the conventional history of the discipline, focusing in particular on the putative ‘Great debates’. We will also discuss the ideas of science in the discipline and examine how the ‘Great Debates’ narrative has shaped not only IR’s understanding of self, but also its understanding of the wider world. The second part of the course will focus on different traditions of academic IR – American, European and non- Western. In the third section, we will investigate three major silences of IR history: Race, Empire and Gender. We will investigate how central these questions have been to IR’s imagination of itself and why they remain understudied. Finally, we will discuss the violence of IR’s language and debate if IR displays genocidal tendencies.
Overall, this course will help students to reflect on the practices of IR as a discipline, debate its various silences, and think through its conceptual catalogue with a critical eye. However, this also means that some familiarity with the literature on IR theory is required for this course. Minimally, the students ought to know about the major theories of IR and at least know very broadly about some of the leading figures such as E.H. Carr, Hans Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz.

Course objectives

The course hopes to initiate the interest of students in the disciplinary landscape of IR. It requires students to question the received truths of IR and reflect on how what we know depends on who tells us the story. The scholarly literature scanned during the course of these seminars and our discussions should help students to deepen their interest in IR theory, history and decolonizing the discipline. Through course assessments, students will also develop skills in independent research, writing and presentation.


See Timetable.

Mode of instruction

This course follows a seminar format, which means that the instructor will briefly initiate the weekly theme, followed by student presentations and debate. Student presentations will start from Week 3.
For every seminar, all students are required to prepare a written short summary statement for each of the mandatory readings for the week. The summary statement should contain the following:

  • key words and terms;

  • a statement of the author’s main argument (three-four lines);

  • one or two questions that the reading raises for you.

The summary must be submitted electronically the midnight before the class. These summaries are included in the credits for class participation.

Attendance is mandatory. Missing more than one session will invite penalties, unless the student has genuine extenuating circumstances which will need to be supported with documentation.

Course Load

Specification of the Course Load

  • 24 Hours of classes

  • 144 Hours of reading and class preparation (12 hours per week over 12 weeks)

  • 24 Hours to prepare for the presentation

  • 100 Hours to complete the research essay

Assessment method


The grading for this course will be based on:

  • Presentation: 20%

  • Class Participation: 10%

  • Weekly Summaries: 20%

  • Research Essay (5000 words): 50%


The final mark for the course is established by determing the weignted average. However, students are required to pass every assessment to be able to receive a final passing grade.


Re-sits are offered only on the research essay, if it is found to be insufficient. The resubmission should be made within two weeks of being advised on the insuffience of the original.

Exam review

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.


Blackboard will be used for this course.

Reading list

  • Mandatory readings for the course can be accessed online via Leiden library.
    There are no required textbooks, some familiarily with one or more of the following keys texts is advised:

  • Ashworth, Lucian (2014) A History of International Thought. From the Origins of the Modern State to Academic International Relations, London: Routledge.

  • David Long and Brian Schmidt (eds.) Imperialism and internationalism in the discipline of International Relations, Albany: State University of New York Press.

  • Dunne, Tim (1998) Inventing International Society. A History of the English School, Houndmills:

  • Guilhot, Nicolas (2011) The Invention of International Relations Theory: Realism, the Rockefeller
    Foundation, and the 1954 Conference on Theory, New York: Columbia University Press.

  • Hobson, John (2012) The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics: Western International Theory,
    1760-1910, Cambridge: CUP.

  • Morgenthau, Hans J. (1946) Scientific Man vs. Power Politics, Chicago: The University of
    Chicago Press.

  • Schmidt, Brian (1998), The political discourse of anarchy: a disciplinary history of International Relations, Albany: State University of New York Press.

  • Synne Dyvik, Jan Salby and Rorden Wilkinson (2017) What’s the point of International Relations? New York and London: Routledge.

  • Teschke, Benno (2003) The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations, London: Verso.

  • Tickner, Arlene and Ole Waever (2008), International Relations scholarship around the world, London: Routeldge.

  • Vitalis, Robert (2015) White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations, Ithaca and London: Cornell.


Via uSis.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr.Vineet Thakur.