This semester’s graduate conflict syllabus

After spending a lot more time on it than I anticipated (go figure), I finally put the finishing touches on my graduate conflict syllabus this morning, which you can see here. There are some subtle changes from the last time I taught the course (which I discussed here), but the main difference—I think—is a slight change in my own approach to teaching graduate courses.

I hit on this unintentionally the last time around, where I said in class something to the effect of “This isn’t a class about war and peace. It’s about how to study war and peace.” I hadn’t used precisely those terms before, but I think I summed up my approach pretty well in that statement; even a substantive seminar has to be, on some level, a kind of “methods” course. It’s about evaluating arguments, theories, and research designs on the surface, but it’s also about students learning what good (and bad) research “looks like” and how to apply the same (hopefully high) standards they use when judging others’ work to their own. In other words, it’s a course on “research and how to do it.”

Ultimately, that means I worry less and less about achieving the proper breadth of coverage—for me, depth is the key. I assign topics based on (a) the connections between important pieces on the topic, (b) bodies of work that help me make points about theory development, explanation, and the logic of inference, (c) how well I know the topic, and, lastly, (d) the visibility or trendiness of the topic. The first two points, though, are paramount, and I’m increasingly okay with that. Ultimately, students can learn a substantive literature that I leave out (from rivalry to the steps to war to international institutions to nuclear proliferation) on their own, but the real stuff of their training is in teaching them how to evaluate work and produce their own…and that means a rather different set of selection criteria than I would choose if my only goal were to give the state of the art.

In service of this, I’m doing something a bit egotistical different (at least for me) during week 13 on coalitions: I’m turning the class into a kind of mini book workshop (I might even spring for lunch, but we’ll have to see if they earn it first). The class will read the core chapters of the book manuscript I’m working on (two raw chapters and two component articles), and then ask questions and give feedback. Quite apart from my own selfish perfectly reasonable desire to get said feedback, I’m hoping this proves a good way for them to (a) see how the sausage is made, so to speak, and (b) learn how to critique someone’s work with them sitting in the same room. I’m pretty excited about it.

I’m also going to try to use this class as a jumping off point to get back into blogging again. We’ll see how it goes.

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