BA History

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Reshaping the World: Thinking About Global Politics in the Twentieth Century

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST32232
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by
Available as a free choice unit? No


Throughout the twentieth century, revolutionaries, philosophers, peace activists, policy-makers, novelists, and imperial administrators have all tried to bring order to an anarchic and dangerous world. This course explores the intellectual history of modern international relations, foregrounding the diversity of voices, projects, and movements that sought to shape (or radically transform) global politics. Topics will include imperial world orders, international government, UNESCO and world citizenship, racial utopias, civilisation and the international system, globalism, decolonisation, and disarmament. By analysing ideas in their historical contexts, this course invites students to critically interrogate the intersecting forms of power in modern international relations, in particular the multiple and enduring connections between empire and global order. Students will investigate the history of the ideas, institutions, and practices of world politics whilst challenging the assumptions, unequal power relations, and Eurocentric priorities that continue to be embedded within them. 


Restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).

This module is restricted to History programmes and History joint honours programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).


  • To develop knowledge of key concepts in the historical study of international relations, including world order, power, empire, collective security, sovereignty, and world citizenship.
  • To encourage students to think about the close connections between international relations and history, in particular how historical approaches to international relations can improve accounts of the development of the international system.
  • To use critical frameworks and decolonial perspectives to challenge some of the traditional narratives and assumptions of international relations scholarship and examine its close entanglement with European imperialism.
  • To equip students with skills in reading, analysing, and contextualizing texts about world politics.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate a broad understanding of important institutions and processes in twentieth-century international relations.
  • Develop a nuanced understanding of key ideas and concepts in modern international thought by exploring the important thinkers in their historical context.
  • Build knowledge of the complex, contested, and deeply historical nature of the contemporary international order and the hierarchies that structure it.
  • Develop a critical understanding of how, where, and by whom knowledge about world politics has been, and continues to be, produced by examining the history of influential thinkers and institutions, for example, universities, international organisations, and think tanks.

Intellectual skills

  • Locate, interpret, and synthesise information and debates from a wide-ranging secondary literature on international relations which includes writing from several disciplines – History, Politics, International Relations, Sociology, and Law – and use these to deliver coherent, persuasive, and original arguments in assessed work.
  • Think critically about how academic knowledge is produced by examining the historical origins and past and present limitations of the discipline of International Relations.
  • Analyse a range of complex primary sources from a variety of perspectives and genres, including novels, political theories, maps, treaties, and school textbooks.

Practical skills

  • Digital humanities skills developed through the use of online archives, especially the League of Nations archives and the United Nations archives.
  • Teamwork skills developed through developing and delivering a presentation as part of a group.
  • Communicating your own arguments and interpretations in verbal and written formats.
  • Contributing to group discussions on complex historical and theoretical debates in seminars.
  • Independent research skills for seminar preparation and assessed work.
  • Organisational and time-management skills developed through organising and managing independent study.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Understand and clearly articulate complex topics verbally and in writing.
  • Develop clear and coherent arguments that bring together and critically interpret information from a range of sources.
  • Develop confidence in verbal presentation skills through seminar participation and group presentations.
  • Carry out independent research on primary and secondary material.
  • Develop a sensitivity to how and by whom knowledge about international politics has been, and continues to be, produced and the effects of this.
  • Teamworking skills will be developed through group activities in workshops and the group presentation.

Employability skills

Group/team working
Group activities in workshops and the design and delivery of in-class group presentations will develop students' project management, planning, and teamworking skills.
Oral communication
Presentations and in-class discussions will prepare students for effective communication in the workplace, in particular how to respond quickly and effectively to questioning and debate.
Independent research through written assessments will develop student' ability to interpret, analyse, integrate, and present information from a range of sources in order to solve complex historical problems.
As this course engages with the history of international institutions and foreign policy think tanks, many of which remain part of the contemporary political landscape, it will be of particular relevance to students who wish to enter careers in international development, foreign policy (e.g., think tanks), or the Civil Service (especially the Foreign Office).

Assessment methods

Source Analysis: 35%

Essay: 65%

Feedback methods

Feedback methord Formative or Submmative
Verbal feedback on (non-assessed) group presentation and seminar activities  Formative
Written feedback on the source ananlysis and the essay assignments via turnitin 

Fornative and summative 

Additional one-on-one feedback (during consultations and office hours)  Formative 


Recommended reading

D. Armitage, Foundations of Modern International Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Duncan Bell, Dreamworlds of Race: Empire and the Utopian Destiny of Anglo-America (Princeton University Press, 2020).

Benjamin de Carvalho et al., Routledge Handbook of Historical International Relations (London: Routledge, 2021).

John Hobson, The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics: Western International Theory, 1760–2010 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Mark Mazower, Governing the World: The History of an Idea, 1815 to the Present (New York: Penguin, 2012).

David Long and Brian Schmidt, eds., Imperialism and Internationalism in the Discipline of International Relations (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005).

Glenda Sluga, Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).

Glenda Sluga and Patricia Clavin, Internationalisms: A Twentieth-Century History (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

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

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Liam Stowell Unit coordinator

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