PSCI 4820: Geography, History, and International Relations

Dr. Paul Hensel
Phone: 369-7330
Office: 165 WH

Please note that this web page is not the full syllabus for this course. The complete syllabus -- including the schedule of assigned readings, course exams, and other assignments -- is only available in the full syllabus (in PDF format). Be sure to print out that complete syllabus and be familiar with it, so that you do not fall behind or miss any assignments during the semester.

Course Description

Most political scientists study international relations "in a vacuum," without reference to the geographic and historical context in which events take place. The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the impact of geography and history on international relations, and to reexamine traditional international relations phenomena such as trade or military conflict with a consideration for the influence of historical and geographic factors. A more technically accurate title might be "Geographic and Historical Influences on International Relations," although that is too long to fit in the schedule of classes. Upon completion of this course, students should have a better understanding of how geographical and historical forces influence international relations, and should be able to apply these concepts in following world events. The course will require a range of readings, regular attendance, two essay exams, and a research paper.

It should be noted that this class will address these topics theoretically, drawing from contemporary political science research; this will not be a class in current events. Also, this is NOT a course in geography or history, but rather a course on the ways that geographic and historical factors can influence international relations. The topics covered in this course are traditionally seen as political science topics, and most of the readings and lecture materials are based on research by political scientists that was published in political science journals. Students interested in geography or history as the main topics of analysis are urged to take coursework from UNT's Geography or History departments.

Required Texts

Please note that the syllabus for this course that you can download here is the one that I used the previous time I taught the course. The course organization will remain largely the same in Fall 2019, but there will be some changes in the assigned readings. Most of these changes will be to replace one online reading or journal article with another, which will not have much impact on the amount of work being assigned or the cost of the course. A more substantial change is the assignment of a new book, because the book that I used the last time I taught this is not out of print (and its maps are now six years out of date, so even if we could find enough used copies to allow it to be assigned, it would have less value. The new book is the following:

* "Student Atlas": Collins Maps (2018). Collins Student Atlas, 6th edition. HarperCollins UK. ISBN 978-0008259150. (Available at the usual Denton locations, or maybe cheaper through online bookstores -- but wherever you buy it, be sure to get the correct edition!)

* JSTOR: An academic journal service that UNT provides for us. Access is free through the UNT libraries web site; you can search for individual articles by author, title, or keyword, or browse by journal name and issue.

* Web: The remaining readings are available online. The online version of the syllabus has direct links to both Web and JSTOR resources. Be sure to access and print out these readings early in the semester, because Web pages frequently move or disappear at inconvenient times.

Course Requirements

(1) Examinations: two noncumulative essay exams are required. Each exam will be worth 25% of the total course grade.

(2) Research Paper: one 10-15 page research paper is required for this class; more details are provided in the full syllabus. This paper will count for 40% of the total course grade.

(3) Preparation, Attendance, and Participation: Students are expected to complete the assigned readings before class, attend class regularly, and participate actively in class discussion. Class preparation will be measured through approximately 6-10 (unannounced) quizzes given at the very beginning or ending of class periods, which together will be worth 10% of the total course grade; each student's quiz grade will be determined by dropping the lowest quiz score.

Rest of Syllabus

The remainder of the syllabus -- course rules, notes about the academic honor code and the Americans with Disabilities Act, assigned readings, and details about the research papers -- is only available in the complete syllabus (in PDF format). Be sure to print out that complete syllabus and be familiar with it, so that you do not fall behind or miss any assignments during the semester.

Assigned Readings

The assigned readings for this course are listed in the PDF-format syllabus. This section only includes links to online readings, to make it easier for students to acquire these readings. Be sure to print these readings early in the semester, when they are all still available at these locations (all readings were verified as being available at these locations in January 2014); web pages are often moved or deleted during the semester, and the instructor of this course will not be responsible if you waited too long and a key reading disappeared the day before a quiz.

Additional Resources

Students interested in further research on these topics may find the following links to be useful. Some of these links are to materials that were consulted in putting together lectures and PowerPoint presentations for this course (please note, though, that I do not necessarily approve of or agree with all of the content of each of these linked pages). Students interested in citations to scholarly publications on many of these topics should consult the syllabus for my Contexts and International Relations graduate seminar.

Note that this list is currently incomplete and will be updated as the semester goes along.


A. General Geographic Issues

Introduction to Contexts / Geography as a Context

Nations, States, and World Politics

Migration and Refugees

Freshwater and River Issues

Fisheries and Maritime Issues

Transnational Problems

B. Geography and International Conflict

Introduction / Facilitating Condition for Conflict


Regional Context for Conflict

C. Geography and Economics

Geography and Development

Oil and Other Resources

Geography and Trade



History as a Context

Decision Makers and Learning from History

Generational & Societal Learning

History and International Cooperation

The Impact of Colonialism

Crises and Wars


History and International Economics

Historical Barriers, Waves, and Norms / Course Wrapup
Last updated: 25 February 2019
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