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International studies and Political Science.


International Studies is emerging as a separate interdisciplinary major at many universities. This article places this growing field in the context of its disciplinary origins and assesses its curricular requirements. It argues for a truly interdisciplinary major that while emerging from Political Science takes advantage of other disciplines, further language training, and study abroad opportunities.


The subfield of International Relations is secure within existing Departments of Political Science. At the same time, more colleges and universities are offering a separate degree in International Studies. International Studies is usually housed in Departments of Political Science because of the primacy of international politics in this curriculum, but it is often considered to be an interdisciplinary major featuring significant coursework in language, history, and economics, among others. International Studies majors expect to work and live in a context beyond their native experience, and thus they need the tools supplied by several disciplines to succeed linguistically and culturally as well as professionally after graduation. In higher education, where distinct departments and disciplines create the contours of knowledge and power, achieving a truly interdisciplinary program is a continuing challenge: how should curriculum committees move beyond simply cobbling together a patchwork of courses from various disciplines, without overburdening the faculty and administration? How to avoid the charge that interdisciplinary programs are by definition less rigorous than discipline-based programs? In this study, we analyze the best practices of International Studies programs and offer our advice on creating an interdisciplinary program that meets the needs of students, faculty, and administrators in the twenty-first century.

This summary and analysis of building an interdisciplinary International Studies major is based on experience we gained by serving on a committee at Xavier University. We compared Xavier's existing program to eight competitive institutions, thirteen benchmark institutions, and seventeen other Jesuit institutions based on information published on these school's websites. [1] We also spoke with individuals who direct some of these programs. [2] While the schools we compared were Jesuit or private institutions, we would expect them to have little difference in terms of their International Studies programs from those schools included in earlier surveys.

Finally, we completed a literature review of recent publications relating to International Studies. International Studies is an increasingly popular major. Despite their increasing popularity, these programs are quite diverse in terms of their features and course offerings. [3] The findings of these studies confirm the diversity of curriculum we found in our own survey. Programs rely on numerous and varying required and optional courses with a myriad of concentrations that focus on a region of the world or intellectual theme. Because of the diversity of course offerings, there is an on-going debate over the ability of International Studies to develop as a coherent scholarly field. Nevertheless, the literature suggests that curriculum should be purposively conceived, continually assessed and modified, and address a clearly articulated learning outcome. [4] We believe that International Studies is best conceived as an emerging discipline based in Political Science but slowly incorporating the scholarly methods and research conducted in a variety of disciplines that study international behavior and realities.

Structuring the International Studies Major

There has been little published on how to structure an International Studies Curriculum. Ishiyama and Breuning contend that a common method of constructing the major is the "big umbrella'" approach. Programs organized in this vein give students wide latitude to construct the major as they see fit. This approach has the virtue of causing the fewest turf wars among departments because it does not emphasize a curriculum that favors any department. [5] The flexibility of this approach also ensures that students can take advantage of study abroad and other international internship opportunities. These are increasingly seen as beneficial and should be incorporated into an International Studies Program. [6] Critics of the big umbrella approach believe that it does not guarantee that students achieve a specific skill set expected of the major. [7] While we recommend making the program as interdisciplinary and inclusive as possible, the curriculum should be designed with a specific structure in mind. While allowing flexibility in the concentrations within the major, we believe a common set of courses should provide some coherence.

In terms of the specific courses that need to be included in an International Studies major curriculum, Ishiyama and Breuning believe that there needs to be a broad introductory course, a research methods course, and a capstone course. [8] The introductory course is designed to acquaint students with the concepts, theories, and issues of debate in the field. Virtually all universities that offer a major in international studies offer some form of introductory course. [9] The introductory course in International Relations typically serves as the introductory course to the major. The literature suggests that in the future the introductory course should be interdisciplinary in nature, featuring scholarship and expertise from multiple disciplines--and thus likely taught by multiple faculty--in contrast to an introductory course grounded more strictly in Political Science. However, Ishiyama and Bruening found in their study of 66 Midwest colleges and universities that only one-third of these schools had an interdisciplinary introductory course, and Brown, Peg, and Shively found 42.6% of the 140 schools they surveyed had an interdisciplinary introductory course. [10] In our survey only a quarter of schools had a required interdisciplinary introductory course. This lack of interdisciplinarity may be due to the administrative difficulties of constructing a team-taught course. The relatively undefined nature of the introductory course indicates that International Studies is not yet its own defined field with a Department status. Instead, the fact that so many programs utilize the existing International Relations course in Political Science to introduce students to the field demonstrates how International Studies is still primarily within the purview of Political Science.

Our analysis of how research methods are taught to International Studies majors reinforces the notion that International Studies is still under the domain of Political Science. Ishiyama and Breuning found that only half of the international studies programs they surveyed had a methodology course requirement, and Brown, Pegg, and Shively found 22.1% of their 140 schools requiring a methodology course. [11] Of the schools we compared only 17% had a required methodology course. Hey has argued that to understand the origins and evolution of International Studies curriculum we need to understand the growth of interdisciplinary studies more generally and the specific perception that the problems and issues the world confronts require knowledge and skills accrued from a variety of disciplines. [12] She effectively demonstrates that the bulk of scholarly research in the field of international studies comes from the subfield of Political Science called International Relations. As such research in the field is not interdisciplinary but usually conceived of and completed in the single discipline of Political Science. [13] Moreover, Hey believes that the content of the major as suggested by Ishimaya and Breuning is too centered on the study of politics, especially because they encourage a research methodology course that is most often taught as a course in a single discipline, political science. For Hey, it makes little sense to require a methods class for an interdisciplinary program that only teaches how to do research in a single discipline. She sees this as providing further advantage to the study of politics within International Studies. [14] When methodology in International Studies goes beyond that offered in Political Science, it is often multidisciplinary rather than interdisciplinary. [15] This means that methodologies of other disciplines are offered rather than creating a new understanding of research methods that would integrate methods used in the various disciplines that contribute to the International Studies Major We agree with Hey's general desire to create an interdisciplinary program but recognize that this will emerge naturally and practically only from Political Science. Methodology courses must fit the need for research in International Studies, not just the field of Political Science.

The third common element usually included in an International Studies curriculum is a capstone course, required in 65% of the colleges and universities we surveyed. [16] There is significant variation found in how this capstone course was taught. In some cases it is connected to specific content in a traditional seminar format. In other cases it is organized around students researching their own independent projects. Clearly, the goal, even if unspecified of these capstone experiences, is to concatenate what the student has learned in the previous coursework for the major. This may be more difficult for an International Studies capstone experience where the multidisciplinary nature of the program might make it less coherent than more established disciplinary based capstone courses.

While some other core course requirements are often part of the curriculum, most institutions require some form of concentration. [17] In our survey we found that 9% of institutions required a geographic area concentration and another thirteen percent required a thematic one. Some programs emphasize thematic concentrations more than area concentrations. These form the two means institutions use to organize the electives students take as part of their international studies curricula. [18] Schools need to develop concentrations based on the expertise of their faculty and the resources available on their campuses. The increasing prevalence of Spanish as the most common foreign language studied along with the increase in study abroad in recent years makes area studies in Latin America increasingly attractive. Historically, many schools had a preponderance of their focus on Europe, but clearly there is a need to develop more programs of study for Asia and Africa. In a recent survey of scholars in International Relations in the United States, 60% indicated that East Asia will be the region of greatest strategic importance in twenty years. [19] While it might be tempting to focus on terrorism and Near Eastern Studies in the short-term, a process of identifying the regions and thematic areas of concentration that are of long-term interest to the university should guide the hiring of faculty and the development of concentrations for International Studies programs.

One of the most important recommendations that emerged from our discussion with faculty and our analysis of the literature is that institutions must take the necessary steps to facilitate study abroad. It is clear that these programs are gaining in popularity since the number of students participating in them has more than doubled in recent years. [20] Despite the stated importance of study abroad, Brown, Pegg and Shively, found only 38.6% of International Studies Programs require study abroad of their major. [21] Our survey of schools similar to Xavier found only 13% of schools required study abroad but many encouraged and strongly encouraged their students to do so. Study Abroad is limited by financial considerations, administrative difficulties, and the availability and willingness of faculty to participate in study abroad programs. One option is to seek a less immersive "international experience" component that recognizes on-site work with US-based institutions engaged in international exchange, such as an internship at a UN office.

One final area of focus peculiar to an International Studies program is the need for enhanced foreign language training. Brown, Pegg, and Shively found in their study of 140 International Studies Programs that 80% of the institutions required majors to achieve at least intermediate level proficiency in a foreign language. [22] Similarly, of the institutions we analyzed nearly 70% required at least intermediate proficiency. Typically, requirements for foreign language are greater than the general requirement for all university students. We believe that enhanced study of language can best be achieved by study abroad. For most students, the immersion in a foreign language setting is the best way to increase skill in a foreign language. Thus, the increased expectation of foreign language study will be realized when students have more encounters with those whom they study and the opportunity to become sensitized to a different culture that is part of this experience. [23]


We offer four primary recommendations for creating a rigorous and interdisciplinary International Studies program:

1. The program should be viewed as an honors program that requires significant resources and demands excellence of students, faculty, and administrators.

2. Support should be given for the creation of introductory, methods, and capstone courses that incorporate the latest research and tap into existing faculty resources from several disciplines.

3. A committee should oversee a rigorous approval process for the selection of courses from traditional disciplines that may count toward the major.

4. The university should supply financial aid and administrative support for the pursuit of study abroad opportunities.

Institutional financial and administrative support is necessary in order to sustain these recommendations. With this support, International Studies will thrive as a substantive new field--interdisciplinary, but grounded in political science--that addresses the interdependence and globalization of economies, politics, and culture in the twenty-first century.


[1] This list included: Bradley, Butler, Boston College, Canisius, Cincinnati, Creighton, Dayton, Detroit Mercy, Drake, Fairfield, Fordham, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Holy Cross, John Carroll, LeMoyne, Loyola Chicago, Loyola Maryland, Loyola Marymount, Loyola New Orleans, Marquette, Miami of Ohio, Notre Dame, Ohio, Regis, Rockhurst, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Scranton, Seattle, Spring Hill, Stetson, St. Joseph's, St. Peter's, St. Louis, Villanova, and Wheeling Jesuit.

[2] We would especially like to thank Mary Conway Dato-On and Matthew Shank from Northern Kentucky University, William Hazleton and Jeanne Hey from Miami University, Paul Garcia from St. Louis University, and Thomas Moore from the University of Cincinnati.

[3] John Ishiyama and Marijke Breuning, "A Survey of International Studies Programs at Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities in the Midwest: Characteristics and Correlates" International Studies Perspectives 5 (2004): 134.

[4] Michael Brecher, "International Studies in the Twentieth Century and Beyond: Flawed Dichotomies, Synthesis, Cumulation," International Studies Quarterly 43 (1999): 213-264; Mark A. Boyer, Mary Caprioli, Robert A. Denemark, Elizabeth C. Hanson, and Steven L. Lamy, "Visions of International Studies in a New Millennium," International Studies Perspectives 1 (2000): 1-9; Jonathan N. Brown, Scott Pegg, and Jacob Shively, "Consensus and Divergence in International Studies: Survey Evidence from 140 International Studies Curriculum Programs," International Studies Perspectives 7 (2006): 267-286; and Margaret G. Hermann, "One Field, Many Perspectives: Building the Foundation for Dialogue," International Studies Quarterly 42 (1998): 605-624.

[5] Ishiyama and Breuning, "A Survey of International Studies Programs at Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities in the Midwest," 136.

[6] Kirk S. Bowman and Ashley Jennings, "Pura Vida: Using Study Abroad to Engage Undergraduate Students in Comparative Politics Research," PS: Political Science & Politics 38 (2005): 77-81.

[7] American Association of Colleges and Universities, Reports from the Fields: Project on Liberal Learning, Study-in-Depth, and the Arts and Sciences Major, Vol. 2 (Washington: Association of Colleges and Universities, 1991); Marijke Breuning, Paul Parker, and John T. Ishiyama, "The Last Laugh: Skill Building through a Liberal Arts Political Science Curriculum," PS: Political Science and Politics 34 (2001): 657-661; John T. Ishiyama and Stephen Hartlaub, "Sequential or Flexible? The Impact of Differently Structured Political Science Majors on the Development of Student Reasoning," PS: Political Science and Politics 36 (2003): 83-86; John C. Wahlke, "Liberal Learning and the Political Science Major," PS: Political Science and Politics 24 (1991): 48-60.

[8] Ishiyama and Breuning, "A Survey of International Studies at Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities in the Midwest," 137.

[9] Brown, Pegg, and Shively, "Consensus and Divergence in International Studies," 270. Of the schools we surveyed ninety-two percent of schools required some introductory course.

[10] Ishiyama and Breuning, "A Survey of International Studies at Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities in the Midwest," 141 and Brown, Pegg, and Shively, "Consensus and Divergence in International Studies," 270.

[11] Ishiyama and Breuning, "A Survey of International Studies at Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities in the Midwest," 141 and Brown, Pegg, and Shively, "Consensus and Divergence in International Studies," 272.

[12] Jeanne A.K. Hey, "Can International Studies Research Be the Basis of Undergraduate International Studies Curriculum? A Response to Ishimaya and Breuning," International Studies Perspectives 5 (2004):396. For a more general discussion of the nexus between interdisciplinarity and Political Science, see Michael Moran, "Interdisciplinarity and Political Science," Politics 26 (2006): 73-83.

[13] Hey, "Can International Studies Research Be the Basis of Undergraduate International Studies Curriculum?" 396-397. Frank P. Harvey and Michael Brecher's edited volume, Evaluating Methodology in International Studies (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002), is a good example of a text that is focused exclusively on Political Science Methodologies.

[14] Ibid., 397-399. For how International Studies can benefit from a multidisciplinary approach see Rudra Sil and Eileen M. Doherty, Beyond Boundaries: Disciplines, Paradigms, and Theoretical Integration in International Studies. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000).

[15] Brown, Pegg, and Shively, "Consensus and Divergence in International Studies," 273.

[16] Ishiyama and Breuning in "A Survey of International Studies at Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities in the Midwest," 141 found 46% of the programs they surveyed required a capstone course, but Ann Kelleher in "Does International Studies Have Common Core? An Analysis of Seventy-Three Curriculum Programs." Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association 2005 in Honolulu found that nearly 73% of the 73 programs she surveyed required a capstone course. Brown, Pegg, and Shively in "Consensus and Divergence in International Studies," 275 found just over 72% of 140 programs surveyed had a capstone requirement.

[17] Brown, Pegg, and Shively, "Consensus and Divergence in International Studies," 276.

[18] Ann Kelleher, Learning from Success: Campus Case Studies in International Program Development. (New York: Peter Lang, 1996), 425.

[19] Susan Peterson, Michael J. Tierney, and Daniel Maliniak, "Inside the Ivory Tower," Foreign Policy 151 (2005): 63.

[20] Bowman and Jennings, "Pure Vida," 77.

[21] Brown, Pegg, and Shively, "Consensus and Divergence in International Studies," 278.

[22] Ibid., 280.

[23] For a general argument in favor of teaching across cultures see Raymond Cohen, "Living and Teaching Across Cultures," International Studies Perspectives 2 (2001): 151-160.

Timothy J. White, Xavier University

Anas Malik, Xavier University

Rachel Chrastil, Xavier University

Timothy J. White, Ph.D., is a Professor of Political Science, Anas Malik, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Political Science, and Rachel Chrastil, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of History.
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Author:Chrastil, Rachel
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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