PSCI 5832: Contexts and International Relations

Dr. Paul Hensel
Office: 165 Wooten Hall


Most political scientists study international relations "in a vacuum," without reference to the geographic and historical context in which events take place. The central goal of this course is to consider the impact of geography and history, and to study the many ways that such contextual forces can influence international processes. This goal will be pursued through a variety of theoretical and empirical readings on the impact of geography and history, in-class presentations on weekly topics, and a research paper dealing with contextual effects in international relations.

It must be emphasized that this is not a course in geography or history, but rather a course that examines the ways that geographic and historical factors influence international relations. Students seeking a course in geography or history are advised to look to UNT's Geography and History departments, because they will certainly be disappointed with this course. We will not examine the geography or history of specific countries or regions; we will focus on theoretical and analytical applications of geographic and historical influences on traditional international relations topics such as international conflict and trade; and the readings for this course were primarily written by and intended for political scientists. Furthermore, this course will not be post-modern or constructivist in its approach (although several of the readings may draw from such theoretical frameworks); like most of UNT's Political Science department, this course will focus on the development and testing of systematic theories on political phenomena.

This course is part of the Political Science Ph.D. program, but is open to graduate students from any department or program who have the necessary background. The course will involve intensive reading of advanced scholarly research; nearly every reading that is assigned involves quantitative data analysis, formal mathematical models, or both. While students are not necessarily expected to be able to produce their own quantitative and/or formal research, they must be able to understand and discuss this type of work. Students who are unable to do so or who are unwilling to accept the validity of quantitative analyses of human activities are advised to avoid this course, as they will be wasting both their own time and that of their classmates, and their grades for participation and for the discussion papers will reflect this.

Required Texts

This is a heavily article-focused course, with only two books being required. The following books should be available at any of the campus bookstores, and will probably be cheaper from any online bookstore (such as,,, or Where possible, feel free to order the paperback rather than hardcover edition or to order a used rather than new copy if desired.

* Jared Diamond (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.

* Margaret MacMillan (2008). Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History. New York: The Modern Library.

Most of the other readings are available through JSTOR or UNT's other e-journal subscriptions; the ones that are not will be made available on the instructor's Blackboard page for this course.

The rest of the syllabus, including assigned readings, is available in the complete syllabus (in PDF format).
Last updated: 30 July 2018
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