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Diplomacy: History, theory and practice


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA International Relations.


Diplomacy, so said Henry Kissinger, ‘is the art of restraining power’. But how, short of war, do states actually moderate, interact with and ultimately influence one another? This elective is designed to examine historically the evolution of diplomatic practice and the various methods and modes of international diplomacy in the contemporary era. We will begin by first defining diplomacy, then briefly theorising it, before considering its ancient roots. We will thereafter move to consider the oft-murky world that is the diplomatic apparatus of a state – in other words, the role, training and lexicon of the ambassador and diplomat, the importance of the foreign embassy and consulate, and the centrality of the foreign ministry bureaucracy in both the national and international realm. This in turn will allow us to discuss the art of ‘traditional’ diplomacy at a unilateral and, as has become increasingly important, a multilateral level – including the rise of summitry – before considering the emergence and effectiveness of diplomacy in its still more varied forms, whether informal, public, cultural, celebrity, economic, Google or guerrilla.

Course objectives

On successful completion of the elective, students will be expected to have developed:

  • a critical awareness of the evolution and practice of modern diplomacy;

  • the ability to situate the study of diplomacy within a broad comparative perspective;

  • an empirical awareness of the interdependency between state and non-state actors in the international realm;

  • a deep understanding of, and ability critically to discuss, the different theories within the field;

  • the capacity to select and deploy sources that challenge and critique the relevant literature.


The timetable is available on the website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

A total course load of 280 hours (10 ECTS) comprising:

  • 24 hours of classes

  • 120 hours of reading

  • 30 hours preparing the presentation

  • 26 hours preparing the research plan

  • 80 hours preparing the final paper

Assessment method


  • Presentation: 30%
    Every student will be assigned a question from a specific session and present on this to their colleagues. Our sessions will, however, be both informal and conversational. Every student should therefore be ready to offer their views or opinions every week, regardless of whether or not they are due to present.

  • Research plan: 10%
    This is a short (max. 1000 words) plan that should include the tentative title of the final paper, the working theory or argument, the provisional structure of the paper delineating the key issues per major theme/paragraph, and a reference list. Past examples will be provided.

  • Final paper: 60%
    Students are free to choose the topic of their final paper or, alternatively, answer one of the presentation questions (providing, that is, that they have not already presented on this in class). The word limit should not exceed 4000 words (excluding references). Students are encouraged to situate their work in a comparative framework and draw on primary sources whether in digital, published, oral or manuscript form.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Retake paper: Students who submitted a paper but failed the course can resubmit their final paper within three weeks after the grade has been released.

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.


Blackboard will be used for this course. Details will follow

Reading list

An elective handbook, outlining the strucutre of the course and both key and recommended readings for each session, will be provided to students via Blackboard.


Via uSis.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.


Dr. G. Macaj