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Public Diplomacy: History, Theory, Practice




Admissions requirements



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. 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.

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.

This course will examine the context, theory, and practicalities of public diplomacy, as well as related fields such as soft power and propaganda. It will consider the differences between propaganda and public diplomacy, and the limitations to public diplomacy activity – what can it actually achieve. It will also consider efforts to assess the results of public diplomacy – to what extent is it measurable? How does one consider ‘success’?

Course objectives

  • To understand key themes and approaches to public diplomacy

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

  • To appreciate the importance of public diplomacy 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


Once available, timetables will be published in 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.
Each student is required to submit an informal web posting before a designated class session. Four postings in total are required. Web postings are used to engage with that week's topic, summing up and discussing one of the readings.

This requires each student to assess the literature on public diplomacy and write a review of selected publications in a short paper.

Site Visit 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.


a) In-class participation 10%
b) Webposts (four, +/-300 words each) 20%
c) Review (+/- 1000 words) 20%
d) Site Visit Report (+/- 1000 words) 20%
e) Analytical Report (+/- 1500 words) 30%

Please note:

  • In accordance with article 4.8 of the Course and Examination Regulations (OER), within 30 days after the publication of grades, the instructor will provide students the opportunity to inspect their exams/coursework.

  • There is a no re-sit policy at Leiden University College.


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

Material will be provided via Blackboard.


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact