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A History of the United Nations


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA International Relations. Students who are interested in taking this course, but who are not admitted to the mentioned master programmes are requested to contact the co-ordinator of studies.


How did a world of empires turn into the 193 countries who are members of the United Nations today? This course will offer a history of 20th century international order focused on the origins and evolution of the United Nations as an international system and institution. We will begin by tracing forms of global governance from the Conference of Berlin (1885) and the Hague Conventions (1899, 1907), their expansion during the interwar era in the League of Nations (1920), and the paths of creation of the United Nations first as a wartime alliance (1942) and then as in institution of international order (1945). The majority of the course will focus on the UN’s role in navigating and codifying global political transformation in what we now call the Global South, as well as the institution’s difficulties responding to Cold War power dynamics. We will close with the UN’s revision in the 1990s, the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, and the place of theories and practice of global governance today, on questions such as that of Rohingyas and Palestine. Throughout, we will explore the evolving functions of various organs of the UN, and their activities beyond issues of war and peace. The themes of anticolonialism, sovereignty, Human Rights, development, and international justice—and the UN’s multi-dimensional role in responding and shaping them—are central to this course.

Course Objectives

This course is focused on teaching students to think critically about events, and understand the complexities of how international organizations function and the role they play in international relations. The aim is less to transmit knowledge than develop critical analysis faculties, and to encourage students to assess a situation objectively, form a considered opinion, and defend a position. In addition, students should be able to appraise and analyse secondary literature pertinent to each seminar topic from week to week and be able to think broadly about their position on the issue.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Lecture and seminar

Assessment Method


Assessment will take four different forms:

Class attendance and participation 10%
Students are expected to attend all classes and may incur penalties through absence. Students are also expected to actively participate in seminars and discussions. If you are going to miss or missed a class or a piece of assessment such as the simulation or the paper deadline because of personal circumstances such as a documented illness or family loss, you should complete an ‘Extenuating Circumstances’ form. Please note that you need to provide documentation that supports your case where possible. If you are ill, therefore, you should make sure to provide a doctor’s note. Forms should be submitted to the lecturer or the study coordinator. The sudy coordinator will document your circumstances and inform your instructor.

Literature review 30%
A 1 page literature review is to be emailed to the tutor who will teach the class each week by noon (12pm) on Wednesday preceding class on Thursday morning. Late submissions will not be marked. The review should summarize the main points of the literature and draw out the differences and similarities between the texts. Students are expected to take a position with regard to the readings and critically assess the arguments therein. The review should be maximum one page long, the challenge is to be succinct and critical in a short space. A review is not due for the first class.

To enhance debates and discussions, particularly given the online format of the course, students are expected to engage with current discussions about the UN. To this end, they are strongly encourage to listen to the Next Page podcast.

Security Council Simulation 30%
At the end of the course, we will conduct a Security Council Simulation on a topic which will be announced later. Students will be divided into groups representing the views of one Permanent Member of the Security Council member on the question. Each presentation will take 10 minutes in which the presenters should argue for an adaption of a resolution that serves the interests of the country they represent. There is quite some scope for creativity here in engaging the views of other members of the ‘Council.’ The presentations will be marked individually and points will be given for reference to the literature of the course and for advocating global visions.

Draft Resolution Paper 30%
Each student is individually required to submit a draft resolution paper of max. 4000 words, excluding footnotes, on the topic or question dealt with in the simulation. The paper is due on Monday 13 December. Late papers will incur a penalty of 10% per day. You must include a cover sheet (below) with the paper.

All assignments must be submitted in word format via the assignments link on Brightspace by 5pm on the day of the deadline.

To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following:
the final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Resit will be arranged if required by the setting of another paper after the end of term.

Inspection 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 organized.

Reading list

Core texts:

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

  • Amy L. Sayward, *The United Nations in International History *(London: Bloomsbury, 2017)


This has to be filled out by the key-user of the department.
Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.


  • For substantive questions, contact:

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


Not applicable.