I teach courses in political geography and contemporary Europe. For the list and brief descriptions, scroll down. Links to current syllabi can be accessed through the departmental site. Not all courses are offered every year.
The War in Ukraine
The prompt was an opinion poll from March 2022. Asked whether they favor ‘taking military action even if it risks a nuclear conflict with Russia’, 35 percent of the Americans polled said ‘yes’. Source: Pew Research Center, 2022. American Trends Panel (March 15). https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2022/03/15/public-expresses-mixed-views-of-u-s-response-to-russias-invasion-of-ukraine/
A nuclear conflict between the United States and Russia would, according to a recent simulation by Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security (SGS), result in over 90,000,000 (ninety million) people dead and injured over the first few hours of it. Source: Princeton University, SGC, https://sgs.princeton.edu/the-lab/plan-a. (I thank Hugh Gusterson for pointing me to that estimate.)
‘What can I do’, I asked myself, ‘to prompt reflection on the dangers of escalating the war?’ Or on the ideologies and money trails at play? In my courses, I recommend works of art and especially films to those curious about the world. I thus suggest some films and opinion pieces that might prompt some reflection on our present moment. The hyperlinks are to the DVD releases by Criterion and they give access to the trailers as well as essays on the films.
If you have space for just one new perspective, I recommend that you give that space to Stanley Kubrick and watch his ‘Dr Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ (1964). https://www.criterion.com/films/28822-dr-strangelove-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-bomb
I also recommend a classic anti-war film from the other side of the Atlantic. That film is Sergei Bondarchuk’s ‘War and Peace’ (1966 original, 2019 restoration), a magnificent adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel by the same title. https://www.criterion.com/films/28891-war-and-peace. (The version to watch is the full-length restoration by Mosfilm, released in North America by Criterion in 2019. The earlier DVD releases, especially the shortened and dubbed versions, are no match for the Criterion release.)
Among documentary films, I recommend the series ‘Cold War’ (1998) by CNN. It is a 24-part series that I recommend in its entirety. https://www.cnn.com/2014/01/02/world/the-cold-war-landmark-documentary/index.html. If you are prepared to sample just one episode, start with Ep 12: MAD (description in the link). The episodes are widely available on youtube.
Among recent (and brief) opinion pieces, I recommend two from mainstream western media. I selected those because they offer perspectives that differ from the usual narrative. I recognize that the pieces are behind paywall, but they are available to many people via libraries.
Thomas Friedman. 2022. This Is Putin’s War. But America and NATO Aren’t Innocent Bystanders. The New York Times, February 21. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/21/opinion/putin-ukraine-nato.html?smid=em-share
The Economist. 2022. By invitation: John Mearsheimer on why the West is principally responsible for the Ukrainian crisis. March 19. https://www.economist.com/by-invitation/2022/03/11/john-mearsheimer-on-why-the-west-is-principally-responsible-for-the-ukrainian-crisis
If you are interested in longer (but still accessible) pieces, I recommend the writings of Marlene Laruelle, a French historian and political scientist working in the United States. One place to start is her 2020 piece “Accusing Russia of Fascism. Polemics around Russia’s Belonging to Europe,” Russia in Global Affairs, December. This and other writings available from her website. https://www.marlene-laruelle.com/
I finally recommend the public talk that Vladimir Pozner gave at Yale University in 2018. For those who do not know who Pozner is and want to sample his message, start with the Yale News story about the talk: https://news.yale.edu/2018/09/28/talk-pozner-warns-against-dangerous-moment-us-russian-relations
The sponsoring unit, Yale’s Program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the Whitney and Betty Macmillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale, also embeds the video in their write-up so that you can watch the two-hour event (a 35-minute talk and another 60 minutes or so of questions and answers) on youtube. https://reees.macmillan.yale.edu/vladimir-pozner-how-united-states-created-vladimir-putin
All links current in May 2022. The films are classics and widely available from public and university libraries.
Courses at UBC (continued)
My lecture courses on Europe address many facets of the continent, from 18th century travelers through 20th century geopolitics to food labeling, boutique wines, and cultural tourism today. To those with a deeper interest in Europe or cultural and political history more generally, I recommend a radio program, titled ‘In Our Time’, by BBC 4. The program consists of a series of conversations, hosted by Melvyn Bragg, on a wide range of ideas from the antiquity to the present day. The program has an extensive archive. The conversations tend to place an undue emphasis on Britain, but many of them nonetheless manage to be thoroughly fascinating.
GEOG 391 – Modern Europe: Places and Borders
This course investigates places in Europe — from the Urals to the Atlantic. The class starts out by exploring how the ideas of Europe and European culture came about in the first place and why they are so contentious. We will then turn to various aspects of European politics and culture, including European integration, nationalism and regionalism, citizenship and immigration, and the foreign relations of the European Union, to name just few. Throughout the class, we examine how social processes at various scales, such as local, regional, national, European, transatlantic, and global, are interconnected and interdependent.
GEOG 220 – Geopolitics
The term geopolitics increasingly comes up in accounts of complex international issues, such as security, migration, and environmental degradation. In this course, as in much of contemporary human geography, to speak about geopolitics is to investigate the ways in which the debates about and policies toward international issues are informed by particular geographical understandings of the world. Engaging a wide range of contemporary issues from a geographical perspective, the course will help students to explain geopolitical concepts and demonstrate how they function in contemporary societies.
GEOG 453 – Political Geographic Analysis
This course focuses on the spatiality of politics: how a wide range of taken-for-granted assumptions about places underpin world politics and, conversely, how political processes shape these assumptions. In so doing, the course clarifies how distant places become interdependent and how this connectedness affects different parts of the world.
GEOG 533 – Political Geography
This course investigates how politics is bound with territorial definition; examines how the management of political issues is intertwined with the ways in which these issues are understood in geographical and territorial terms.
GEOG 493 – Contemporary Europe: Identity and Geopolitics
The objectives of this course are two-fold. First, it explores some of the key concepts and questions that animate political and cultural practices today: questions about community and difference, territories and borders, security and danger. Second, the course investigates economic, political, and cultural transformations in contemporary Europe and its immediate neighbourhood.