Please Note: Credit for development of much of this course and its content goes to Joshua Eastin, Steven Zech and Will D’Ambrosuo.

Course Description:

Inter-state conflict has been the focus of policy and academia for the majority of the twentieth century. However, today's conflicts are more likely to be within states than between them, and the lines between war and peace are far less defined than in past centuries. This course focuses on violence, particularly violence as a political tool to manipulate populations and to achieve the aims of armed groups and states alike. We will discuss when and whether violence is a successful tool to achieve these aims, evaluate the causes and consequences of rebellion and civil war—with special attention to the role that violence plays in shaping their character, duration and likelihood for recurrence. We will use political, psychological and economic theories to understand why collective violence happens and whether and under what conditions counter-violent policies are or can be effective. Specific topics examined include genocide and mass killing, famine, civil war, insurgency, terrorism, sexual violence in war, nationalism and ethnic conflict, counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, and peacekeeping. The primary modes of instruction are lecture, discussion, in-class simulations, small group work and film.


Course readings: Reading the The New York Times each day as well as one additional news source of your choice from among Al JazeeraThe BBC On-LineThe Guardian On-LineLe MondeDer Spiegel or is required. I will quiz and draw test questions from the stories in these news sources and any story in the international section of the New York Times relating to violence or conflict is fair game. I assign 30-40 pages of reading to prepare for each class period. I draw test questions from the content. Reading formats include book chapters, journal articles, and op-eds. All readings will be available for download on the course website.

Book policy: I have not assigned a textbook for this course. I have ordered one book I particularly like, Complex Emergencies by David Keen (2008), as an optional reading at the UW Book Store. I would also recommend an optional writing book that I have found invaluable: The Elements of Style, 4th Edition by Strunk and White. It is also available for download on the course website. 

Final Exam: Based on my experience as a student and my experience teaching, I find people learn best when held to a high standard and when a lot is on the line. Therefore, while I will prepare and hold a practice midterm to give you a sense of what the final will look like, the only graded exam for this course will be the final exam. It will be worth 45% of your grade in this course. I draw questions from the international section of the New York Times, news presentations students make each day based on alternative news sources, lectures and the reading material for test questions. The format of the tests consists of short answer and essay questions. You will need a blue/green writing book for this exam. 

Research Paper: Based on my experience as a student and teacher, I believe writing skills can be a huge asset no matter where you head after UW, and having a limited experience with writing can be a major detriment to you in your life to come. Therefore, in spite of the limited time frame of this course, you will be writing a research paper, worth 35% of your final grade.

Classroom Activities:

What will this course look like? We will begin class each day with a discussion of current events on issues related to collective violence. The main course content will consist of a lecture, followed by some combination of discussion of the readings, games/simulation, and small group work.

Films: We watch one, possibly more, class-length films to supplement the readings and lectures. Except in emergencies, attendance is required.


  • Current events presentations: 5%
  • Class participation: 15%
  • Research Paper: 35%
  • Final exam: 45%