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Ir 101: The International Relations of Middle-earth

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IR 101: The International Relations of Middle-earth

Summer 2013


Patrick James, Dornsife Dean’s Professor of International Relations

SOS b4b

Office Hours: By appointment
Course Blackboard Site

This site will contain basic information that is useful for the course. Questions or comments that are directed to the Blackboard site will be answered promptly.

Course Description

The purpose of this course is to introduce you to the principles of International Relations, a subject of general interest that also happens to be an academic discipline. International Relations focuses on cooperation and conflict between and among nation-states and other entities. It affects many aspects of our everyday lives, often in ways that are not easy to understand. The course is intended to make International Relations more intelligible through a review of basic principles, with significant attention also to the great issues of the day. This experience also should help to develop your critical reasoning and analytical skills.

The main textbook for the course is The International Relations of Middle-earth, published last year by the University of Michigan Press. Professor Carolyn C. James, from Pepperdine University, will participate in our class with lectures and discussion on July 9. She has enjoyed great success in teaching from LOTR in her classes and her visit will enhance our learning.

Since its publication over a half-century ago, LOTR has become one of the most popular novels of all time. Its major themes – good versus evil, human agency versus determinism, and various others – remain just as relevant today to the human condition in general and International Relations in particular. LOTR is a timeless story set in an imaginary world, but with enough parallels for us to see the great questions of our time asked in different and thought-provoking ways. In the new millennium, LOTR is more prominent than ever, with all three of Peter Jackson’s movies standing among the top 25 of all time in box office revenue.

LOTR has been chosen to help convey the principles of International Relations for several substantive reasons – not just its popularity. One, as will become apparent, is that it tells a story about war and peace that helps to bring out many concepts important to the study of International Relations as an academic discipline. Another is that Tolkien’s imaginary world is perhaps the most credible among those created in literature – a point emphasized by various critics for a long time. Thus it is well-suited for application to the study of politics in the real world.

The mid-term examination will take place on July 25 and will have an essay format. The final examination, on August 13, also will have an essay format. Study guides will be provided so you can prepare effectively for each respective exam. All of the material from the lectures, assigned readings and discussion sections will be tested on the exams. The final exam will have a primary emphasis on material covered after the midterm.

Class participation is very important. I expect everyone to read the assignments that appear for each date prior to class that day. This will allow you to better understand the in-class activities and take notes. We will be reading together from LOTR and discussing the contents in class, i.e., as an exercise in creative thinking. According to educational research, students who take notes earn, on average, a half-letter grade better final grade than those who do not.

Participation will be graded on the basis of your contribution to classroom discussions. We will provide themes for discussion of material one class ahead of time on Blackboard. The themes will connect the lectures and readings, in a tentative way, to material from LOTR. Your task will be to elaborate and derive further connections between and among lectures, LOTR and events in the real world of International Relations, especially contemporary ones.

All assignments are subject to change as noted in class, although none is expected at this time.

Be sure to back up all of your computer files. Do not turn in your only copy of any requirement.

The grading scale is as follows: A (93-100); A- (90-92); B+ (87-89); B (83-86); B- (80-82); C+ (77-79); C (73-76); C- (70-72); D+ (67-69); D (63-66) D- (60-62); F (< 60).

Make-up Requirements

There will be no make-up assignments or tests for unexcused absences. Acceptable excuses, meaning medical or family emergencies and official university-related business, must be provided either to me or the teaching assistant in person, in writing, or by phone before an absence and in writing afterwards in order to be considered. Students who are unable to complete a requirement for legitimate reasons that do not quality as excused under university guidelines, and who notify me ahead of time may, at my discretion, complete a requirement belatedly.

Classroom Etiquette

Students are expected to observe all rules of proper classroom conduct. In order to insure an appropriate environment conducive to learning by all:

  1. Please refrain from talking or other disruptive activity during class; even one or two conversations quickly create distractions for other students and the instructor.

  2. No cell phone calls, incoming or outgoing, are allowed in this class; please turn off your cell phone. Text messaging also is prohibited.

  3. If you want to use your computer to take notes, that is fine. But it must not be used for any other purpose during the class.

  4. Please do not come to class late. From the second day of class onward, no one will be admitted to the class once the door is closed. Also, please do not leave class early; if you must do so, tell me beforehand and arrange to sit near the door so your exit will be less disruptive.

Policy on Academic Ethics and Honesty

Academic honesty is fundamental to the activities and principles of a university. All members of the academic community must be confident that each person’s work has been responsibly and honorably acquired, developed and presented. Any effort to gain an advantage not given to all students is dishonest whether or not the effort is successful. The academic community regards academic dishonesty as an extremely serious matter, with serious consequences. When in doubt about plagiarism, paraphrasing, quoting or collaboration, consult your teaching assistant.

Statement for Students with Disabilities

Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to me (or to TA) as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301 and is open 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776.

Required Textbook

Abigail Ruane and Patrick James, The International Relations of Middle-earth: Learning from the Lord of the Rings. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2012.

Course Requirements

Mid-term Examination, July 25 (essay exam) 30%

Final Examination, August 13 (essay exam) 50%

Classroom Exercises, Attendance and Participation 20%

Associated Reading Requirement

A high-level familiarity with contemporary world events is required of USC students as global citizens. Students should be familiar with the major news of international political and economic consequence on daily basis. The professor will incorporate some of them in lectures. Some credible English language online sources of information are as follows: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Time Magazine) (BBC World Service) (The Guardian) (Foreign Policy online) (Yale Global) (Politico)

Schedule of Topics and Reading Assignments

July 9 Overview of Course

States and International Politics, I

11 States and International Politics, II

The Foundations of Middle-earth, I

Reading: Ruane and James, Introduction

16 The Nature of Foreign Policy

The Foundations of Middle-earth, II

Reading: Ruane and James, Chapter 1

18 Political Realism and Structural Realism

Reading: Ruane and James, Chapter 2

23 Describing Foreign Policy Behavior

Reading: Ruane and James, Chapter 3

25 Mid-term Examination

No reading assignment

30 The Evolution of Force

Reading: Ruane and James, Chapter 4

August 1 The Exercise of Power

Reading: Ruane and James, Chapter 5

6 Interstate Bargaining

Reading: Ruane and James, Chapter 6

8 Preferences and International Politics

Reading: Ruane and James, Chapter 7 and Conclusion

13 Domestic Politics and International Interactions

No reading assignment

Final Examination

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