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Conflict & Resolution in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Course Overview

Conflict and Resolution in the 20th and 21st centuries will invite students to explore and evaluate instances of conflict and attempts at resolutions in the contexts of politics, religion, human rights, environmental concerns, and terrorism. This course serves as an option following the successful completion of ancient and modern history classes, where students have had exposure to examples of historical discord, providing basic background on the origins of conflict as well as the eventual need for a global organization to intervene in international conflicts. Course objectives will include the development of research skills and sharing of findings; demonstration of critical thinking skill in writing as well as in class discussions; analysis of primary and secondary sources; and evaluation of conflict resolution strategies used throughout history. Prior to beginning topical units, students will investigate the structure and function of the United Nations. While much of the course will focus on the 20th and 21st century, individual units will each begin with a look at the historical origins and early examples of the conflict of focus. Additionally, each unit will involve research into actual UN cases related to the topic. The course will culminate with a year-end model UN simulation activity.

Course Content

Unit 1: The Role of the United Nations

Unit One affords students the opportunity to review the history and development of the United Nations, including its predecessor, the League of Nations. Students will utilize the United Nations website sources to learn about the structure and functioning of the UN’s main bodies including the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Trusteeship Council, International Court of Justice, and Secretariat as well as UN membership. Students will investigate areas of UN work, including international peace and security, human rights, humanitarian aid, climate action, and international law. With the foundational knowledge in place, students will then have the opportunity to explore actual UN cases in the above-mentioned areas to begin to generalize about the nature of conflicts and solutions faced in the modern world, providing them with a preview of the topical units to follow.

Unit 2: Political Conflict

In Unit Two, students will explore one of the most commonly occurring forms of conflict, political conflict, primarily in the form of war between or within states or nations. Using both historical and contemporary examples, students will examine origins, causal factors (including economic, geopolitical, and ideological influences), as well as enduring impacts. They will also evaluate the success of various treaties and agreements used to end wars. Initially, students will investigate the early impactful conflicts between ancient civilizations and empires and conflicts such as the Mongol conquests, Spanish conquests in the Americas, and multiple revolutions before turning their attention to more modern political conflicts including the Iran-Iraq War, Persian Gulf War, and current Russia-Ukraine War. Attention will also be given to reflection on the UN role in modern conflicts.

Unit 3: Religious Conflict

Unit Three focuses on religious intolerance, which has been at the root of numerous historical conflicts, including both full-scale war and religious persecution either within or between religious groups. This unit seeks to analyze such clashes including the nature of the conflict, its causes, the successful and unsuccessful attempts at resolution, and long-term impacts. Unit Three begins with a look back into some of the earliest struggles. Students will select, research, analyze, and present findings on incidents such as Roman persecution of Christians, the Saxon Wars, the Crusades, the Protestant Reformation, and European wars of religion. These presentations will serve as a springboard for discussion on the generalities of religious war including causes, intersection with other non-religious factors, solutions, and long-term effects, as well as offer deeper inspection of conflicts touched on in previous survey courses. The focus will then switch to the more recent religious conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries. To understand the often-multifaceted nature of modern religious conflicts, students will analyze the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Christian-Muslim conflicts in Nigeria, Hindu-Muslim conflicts between Pakistan and India, and the Taliban in Afghanistan among others. As with all units, students will be assessing UN participation in the more modern examples of conflict.

Unit 4: Environmental Conflict

In Unit Four, students will analyze how human progress has, throughout history, impacted the natural world. Though recognition of and attention to this type of conflict is relatively modern, students will begin the unit by researching and presenting on some of the earliest ways in which human-environment interaction had undesired consequences including the depletion of natural resources, the disruption of ecosystems, and the creation of unhealthy environments through unsanitary practices. Moving ahead, students will focus on modern issues such as Amazon deforestation, ocean pollution, global warming/climate change, and others. Through research and discussion, students will identify the conflicting interests in environmental issues, evaluate the ethical concerns, weigh the value of progress as it relates to environmental harm, and evaluate activists’ attempts to limit and repair environmental damage. Throughout the modern conflicts investigated in this unit, the actions of the UN will be revisited.

Unit 5: Civil Rights

Unit Five will focus on the quest for individual rights. Inequality, prejudice, discrimination, and persecution have existed towards marginalized groups based on ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or other factors throughout history. In this unit, students will analyze a variety of historical and modern civil rights movements, their leadership, strategies, and their enduring impacts. Students will first explore some of the earliest attempts to gain civil rights as well as the progress that was made. Early topics will include Cyrus the Great’s decrees on human rights, the Conflict of the Orders in Rome, various declarations of rights developed during the Enlightenment, the abolitionist movement, and Gandhi’s fight for Indian rights. Following an analysis of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the focus will shift to more modern movements including the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa, Women’s Rights Movements (globally), and the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement. In keeping with the course focus on solving global issues, attention will also be given to UN work in the area of human rights.

Unit 6: Terrorism

Unit Six is unique in that the causes of this conflict may overlap with previously covered topics. For example, terrorism might stem from political, religious, or social issues. Initial readings will be used to create a definition of terrorism, both domestic and international, and come to a consensus of its common components and tactics. Students will then trace terrorism back to some of its earliest forms such as the Order of Assassins and Zealots. The remainder of the unit will focus on more modern examples of terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, the Irish Republican Army, Boko Haram, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, and the Taliban. Instances of domestic terrorist acts occurring throughout the world as well as global terrorism will be addressed. In addition to terrorist organizations, time will also be devoted to exploring individual acts of terrorism such as the Oklahoma City bombing, Christchurch Mosque shootings, and the Oslo/Utoya attacks in Norway. Students will have the opportunity to explore not only the causes behind terrorist movements, but the various impacts including political, economic, and psychological. Counterterrorism strategies will be evaluated with focus on both national strategies and those of the UN Office of Counterterrorism and the UN Security Council’s Counter Terrorism Committee.

Unit 7: United Nations Simulation

Unit Seven will be the culminating unit of the course. Previously, students have learned about the form and function of the United Nations, exploring actual cases and actions taken by the United Nations throughout each of the topical units. In this unit, students will participate in a mock United Nations simulation, affording them an opportunity to apply what they have learned about conflict and resolution in prior units, and building skills including research, public speaking, diplomacy, empathy, persuasion, and critical thinking.