The syllabus cometh (Teaching WWI in Real Time)

After a few, ah, frantic weeks of (agonizing unnecessarily about) course prep, I’m (finally) sufficiently pleased with my World War I in Real Time syllabus to share it (here). I’m pretty excited about the course, because it’s going to give me the chance to cover so much about politics—bargaining, communication, coordination, principal-agent problems, etc.—under a single, unifying event. Christopher Clark says that the War is the “most complex [event] of modern times, perhaps of any time so far,” and his (magisterial) work is only about the beginning of the war. I learned quickly, while choosing topics to cover for the early months of the war, that he’s not wrong. At all.

I’m looking forward to the challenge of teaching, because there’s always a limit to the sheer amount of new stuff you can cover in a given semester. My American Foreign Relations course, for example, really only wants the class to come away understanding (a) the modern theory of war and (b) the theory of comparative advantage. Causes of War…well, I suppose the goal there is obvious. But I don’t want this course itself to be too much of a metaphor for the war: big, complex, and oftentimes incomprehensible. (Sure, it would be hilarious if a student at the end pulled a Francis Ford Coppola and said the equivalent of “making this movie was war,” but nice doesn’t mean the poor sap would’ve learned anything.)

So, if you’re familiar with the war, you’re going to notice a lot of things that I don’t cover. But I also cover what I think is important, not just for understanding the world of 1914, but for understanding politics itself. Strategic interaction, equilibrium, learning, and communication will be our building blocks, but we’ll cover war, diplomacy, alliances, military strategy, international law (neutrality, POWs, and the treatment of noncombatants), and state-society relations (labor issues, gender (in)equality, and demands for reform). My hope is to find simple analytical models to frame each of these problems, allowing students to see that, however sui generis we might like to view big, important events, they’re still specific instances of something more general—just, perhaps, with extreme values of a few variables.

My blogging about the course will pick up in earnest once the semester begins (I do, after all, have some APSA papers to take care of in the meantime), but keep an eye on this space: just as it was 100 years ago today…

CenturyAgoToday
Most of the bridges and the railroads of Liège fall intact to German hands, but a few are successfully destroyed: http://t.co/DhqdNLQLVD
8/7/14, 3:25 AM
CenturyAgoToday
The first elements of the British Expeditionary force begins to arrive in France.
8/7/14, 9:30 AM

…things are about to get interesting up in here.

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One thought on “The syllabus cometh (Teaching WWI in Real Time)

  1. Pingback: The Puzzle(s) of the Great War (Teaching WWI in Real Time, Lecture 1) | The Wolf Den

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