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(Alternate Title: PS4235 – Understudied but surprisingly interesting).
Quite a few modules go into how wars begin, but not so many how they end. This seemed like a fitting end conclude my undergraduate studies on the topic of war and peace, so naturally I picked it.
What I expected
Well, pretty much what the title said.
What I got
A pretty interesting and insightful module on war termination covering both historical and current conflicts. The first few lectures of the module covered basic theories to war termination before studying five major inter-state wars in-depth: World War 1, 2, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the First Gulf War. The next half of the module considered specific solutions relating to peacemaking, peacebuilding, and peacekeeping in different scenarios: Civil wars, insurgencies, rivalries, and the like.
All in all, Prof Soul taught this module well – achieving a good balance between history and present reality. Little time was wasted on unimportant details as greater focus was paid to considering the differing circumstances in which the historical wars ended, and some of the readings were particularly insightful for discussions on what had changed – if any – since the past. As usual, his gruff demeanor may seem slightly intimidating to some that aren’t familiar with him, but under it one might find a humorous and chill prof who really enjoys talking about more than just the course material.
[Webcasted?] Nope – as is the custom for all PS seminar modules, no webcasting.
[Course Materials?] Readings from How Wars End by Gideon Rose and Ikle’s Every War Must End were used during a substantial part of the module, so if you can get a copy of that from Carousell/the library that would be good. Rest are PDF readings.
Assessment & Workload
One is assessed as follows:
- Seminar Participation: 15%. As expected of Prof Soul’s modules, the readings for this class were pretty insane, and it’s probably one of the first few modules that I didn’t complete all the weekly readings for. That said, it’s still important to get as much as you done can, so that you can discuss a little prior to class starting.
- Take-home Midterms: 30% total. One basically writes two short papers (approx 1.2k words) at two points in the semester. Not too difficult, but one has to set aside time to prepare for this on top of the readings.
- Research Project/Paper: 55% total. Actually broken up into several smaller components: Research Topic Proposal (5%), Annotated Bibliography (5%), Prospectus (10%), and the Final Paper (35%). First couple are pass/fail, but prospectus and the final paper are graded. At 3.5-4k words, it’s not something one can rush overnight, and the early deadlines for the first few components force one to begin early.
The workload for this module is light – if one plans to complete all the readings, you’re easily looking at 180 to 200+ pages per week. A hefty amount, indeed. Expect to spend 5 hours for that alone. Otherwise if you’re skimming/skipping some readings, maybe 3 hours per week would be sufficient (inclusive of the time needed to work on your midterms/final paper).
Given an average seminar participation and a B+ for my first midterms balanced out by an A for my second, I expected to split the difference and end up with an A-, or an A if I was fortunate.
Quite surprisingly (and pleasantly), I got an A for my final research paper, which probably swung the rest of the grade up to an A.
Conclusion & Tips
All in all, it’s a really enjoyable module that is jam-packed with content (which you’ll definitely begin to realize as you begin reading the literature). It also definitely feels like a 4k module with the level of depth in which one learns things which they weren’t taught at a 2k or 3k level, but I can’t quite recommend this module to a Year 3 student unless it is the only 4k module that they’re taking that semester. In other words, if one wants to get the most out of this module, take it in a semester when you don’t have many other heavy modules so that you can spend more time going through things properly and writing a good research paper.
- Even if you’re tempted to skip readings from the beginning, don’t. The theoretical parts at the start of the module are critical not just for your writing of your midterms and final paper, but pretty much the rest of the module itself. Without understanding the different frameworks for studying war/conflict termination, you’ll be flying blind in this module and struggling to survive even halfway through it. Do yourself a favour by doing the readings deep and well in the first few weeks so that your future self will know what to write about.
- If you’re someone that likes to do projects in blocks as opposed to stretching them out over time, the early deliverables for the final research paper can feel pretty irritating. That said, you can begin to brainstorm for possible topics once you’ve gotten through the first few weeks of theory (so around week 4) because the readings after that are focused on historical conflicts; unless you’re planning to write on those historical conflicts, their subject matter wouldn’t be that useful for your paper. So you can either read ahead to the specific themes available in the second half of the module or just begin researching on what you’ve brainstormed already.
- The process of writing the final research paper – doing initial research, the annotated bibliography and all – is actually pretty useful for those considering or in the process of drafting their thesis. Take it seriously, and one might learn something quite useful not just for their thesis but possibly for their post-graduate career as well.