HIH3628 - Civil Wars

2017/8 Module description

StaffDr Stacey Hynd - Lecturer
Dr Timothy Rees - Lecturer
Professor Martin Thomas - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module description

This module explores the form and nature of civil wars, and the attempts at reconciliation that have followed them. The transformative effects of civil wars are explored, from the level of individual experience to national identities, from state formation to state disintegration. Among other issues, we will examine the logic of the violence which drive these conflicts, the relationship between civil wars and other forms of conflict, and look at what happens in societies once the war is over. Spanning different examples of civil war across America, Europe, Asia and Africa from the late eighteenth century to the present day, this module seeks to compare the ways in which civil wars have occurred and been understood in different contexts.

Module aims

This module is designed to enhance students’ understanding of recurring themes in the history of civil wars in comparative contexts. It will be taught by two tutors, and exact chronological and thematic focus will depend on which tutors are teaching the module in any given year. The module will evaluate key topics such as the changing forms and nature of civil war, the role of civilians in conflict, war crimes, concepts of population security and the logics of violence, and post-war reconciliation and commemoration. It will predominantly focus on nineteenth to twenty-first century conflicts in settings ranging from the USA, Latin America, Russia and China to Europe, south Asia and Africa. The module will also introduce students to the approaches of military, political, economic, social and cultural history, as well as inter-disciplinary perspectives drawn from conflict studies. It will engage with a variety of different historical source materials, from military records to visual propaganda, memoirs, reportage and humanitarian documentation. By using a combination of tutor-led seminars and lectures, student-led seminars and independent study, the module will enable students to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of taking a comparative approach to the study of civil war.  In this way students will learn to draw thematic comparisons between material from different sources, show awareness of contrasting approaches to research, and demonstrate an enhanced understanding of some of the philosophical questions arising from research into large historical themes.  They will also learn to present some of these complex issues to the rest of the class by leading a seminar in the second half of the course.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Analyse developments in the history of civil wars, and compare examples across a variety of historical time-periods and contexts.
  • 2. Compare and explain key historiographical developments in the history of civil wars across different societies and periods, and relate them to an overall conception of the subject.
  • 3. Evaluate carefully and critically the approaches that historians and scholars working in other disciplines have taken to civil war.
  • 4. Define suitable research topics for independent study/student-led seminars in the history of law and justice, evaluating different and complex types of historical source and historiography.
  • 5. Demonstrate the possibilities and limitations of comparative methodological approaches in historical research more generally.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 6. Analyse the key developments in complex and unfamiliar political, social, cultural or intellectual environments.
  • 7. Identify and deploy correct terminology in a comprehensible manner; use primary sources in a professional manner; present work in the format expected of historians, including footnoting and bibliographical references.
  • 8. Assess critically different approaches to history in a contested area.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 9. Work both in a team and independently.
  • 10. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 11. Understand as a team how to lead a group discussion of a historical topic.

Syllabus plan

Weeks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9: Five sessions covering methodological and conceptual issues relating to civil wars and insurgencies, case studies, and set-up for student-led seminars.  Each session will be taught through one 2-hour seminar and one 1-hour lecture. The lectures will focus on worked examples or case studies from the tutor’s own area of specialism and suggest questions and themes which could be explored comparatively by the students themselves.  The seminars will explore particular issues in more depth, through case studies or discussion of particular sources and historiographical debates.  They will also lay the foundations for the student-led seminars in the second half of the course. Topics covered will vary according to tutor availability.


Weeks 11, 13, 15, 17, 19: Five 2-hour seminars led by groups of 2 or 3 students on topics chosen from a selection of case studies offered by tutors. Topics will vary according to tutor availability and student choice.  Alongside these, there will be five 1-hour lectures, as for Weeks 1-9 above.


Week 21: Concluding session: discussion of overarching issues and comparative points.


Potential lecture topics include (these will vary depending on staff expertise):

1)    Introductions: what is a civil war and who fights in it?

2)    Causes of civil wars – ‘greed’ v ‘grievance’?

3)   ‘New’ v. ‘Old’ Wars?

4)    Rebels and Revolutionaries

5)    Patterns of violence in civil war

6)    International intervention in civil wars

7)    Civilians and Civil War

8)    Making peace

9)    Post-conflict reconciliation

10) Memory and commemoration of civil wars

11) Conclusions


Potential seminar topics include (these will vary depending on staff expertise)

1)    Technologies of Conflict

2)    Recruitment

3)    War Crimes

4)    Child Combatants

5)    Gender in Civil Wars

6)    Resource Conflicts –Oil, Land, Blood Diamonds

7)    Humanitarianism, Human Rights and Civil War

8)    War Propaganda

9)    Memoirs

10) International Intervention in Civil Wars

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities1111x 1 hour lectures to run on alternate weeks over both terms, as described in syllabus plan above.
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities126 x 2 hour tutor led seminars to run in weeks 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 21, as described in syllabus plan above.
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities105 x 2 hour seminars in weeks 11, 13, 15, 17, and 19. Each led by a group of 2 or 3 students. Topics should be chosen from a menu of subjects agreed in advance by tutors. While tutors give guidance and a basic reading list, students are responsible for designing seminar activities and identifying further reading materials.
Guided independent study267Students prepare for seminars, essay, final report and exam through reading and research; they also work in groups to lead seminars based on projects that have been developed.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan500 words1-8, 10Verbal and written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay303000 words1-8, 10Verbal and written
Student-led seminar [comprising: leading a student led seminar (36%) and attending all student-led seminars (4%)]402 hours 1-11Verbal and written
Take-away exam303000 words1-8, 10Verbal and written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (3000 words)1-8, 10Referral/deferral period
Student-led seminar and participation1500 words (written by student individually) describing and reflecting on the proposed seminar activities and materials equating to one person’s contribution (c. 45 minutes), plus proposed handout or powerpoint from seminar (not more than 2 sides of A4) and seminar reading list (not more than 1 side of A4)1-11Referral/deferral period
Take-away examTake-away exam1-8, 10Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of a 3,000 word essay and 3,000 word take-away exam, as in the original assessment, but replaces leading and participating in student-led seminars with a written seminar plan and reading list that corresponds to one student’s contribution to such a seminar. The plan should outline how the seminar is to be structured and organised as well as detailing the material to be used. This will enable a reader to gain a sense of what the student intended to do in the seminar, the rationale for this activity, and when this activity / discussion would take place.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Branch, D. Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya: Insurgency, Civil War and Decolonization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
  • Casanova, J. The Spanish Civil War (London: I. B. Tauris, 2012).
  • Collier, P. & Sambanis, N (eds.) Understanding Civil War: Evidence and Analysis (Washington: World Bank, 2005).
  • Connelly, M. A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
  • Cramer, C. Civil War is Not a Stupid Thing: Accounting for Violence in Developing Countries(London: Hurst & Co. 2006).
  • Farmers, A. The American Civil War 1848-1865 (London: Hodder, 2006)
  • Giustozzi, A. The Art of Coercion (London: Hurst, 2011)
  • Kalyvas, S. The Logic of Violence in Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
  • Race, J. War Comes to Long An: Revolutionary Conflict in a Vietnamese Province (Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, 1973).
  • Reno, W. Warfare in African History. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). 
  • Richards, P. Fighting for the Rainforest: War, Youth and Resources in Sierra Leone (London: Heinemann, 2006).
  • Schmidt, E. Foreign Intervention in Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
  • Turner, T. The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth, Reality (London: Zed Books, 2007).
  • Westad, O. A. Decisive Encounters: The Chinese Civil War, 1946-1950 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003).
  • Wood, E. Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2003).

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Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Civil war, violence, conflict

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