Foundations of World Politics (941M1)

30 credits, Level 7 (Masters)

Autumn teaching

This module provides you with a critical historical perspective on the modern international system. We shall be reflecting on three key themes, each of which is in its own way central to historicising the world we live in today.

First there is the theme of origins: when did the modern international system originate? Was it in 1492 with the European discoveries which for the first time linked up all the major civilizations? Was it in 1648, when the Peace of Westphalia, according to many, first established a sovereign states-system? Or was it in the 1780s, when the coinciding industrial and French revolutions set in train the forces of industrialisation, nationalism, republicanism and total war? The three dates are symbolic but the choice between them is not: as Barraclough suggests, which one you choose determines what you think the most significant characteristics of modern international relations are, and even your view of what modern world history has been about.

The second theme considers the expansion of this modern system into the historically unprecedented global system of today. We cannot do this comprehensively, but by looking at 19th-century European imperialism as well as the responses of some countries which escaped direct colonial rule we can identify some key dynamics of what might be called the modern international historical process.

Finally, no attempt to understand international relations today can avoid reflection on the enormous crisis of the 20th century with its world wars, revolutions and global ideological conflicts. Historical controversy continues to rage over all of these: can they be understood primarily at the geopolitical level as a series of great power conflicts over hegemonic succession? Were they the inevitable result of contradictions and dynamics inherent in modern capitalist society?

Or is it rather the international unevenness of industrialisation or modernisation which explains the extended period of crisis which so recently ended (or did it)? In the end, we cannot fully understand the present as history if only because the story of the present is still being made. But we can try to think historically about the present, to draw conclusions about the nature of the overall historical process in which we are all caught up. And that is what this module is designed to help you to do.


100%: Practical (Workshop)


100%: Written assessment (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 33 hours of contact time and about 267 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2023/24. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to COVID-19, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.