Quarantined across borders, a blog

Before entering restaurants in Taiwan people sanitize their hands and have their temperature taken. Image courtesy of Isabella Mori.

Recently my colleague, Dr. Priya Kapoor, shared a blog with me “Media Rise: Quarantined across borders.” Every day, two or three new blog posts are added. What I like about this site is that it focused on the personal experiences of people who have impacted by COVID-19, from a Pakistani study-abroad student in China, to an American facing anti-Asian discrimination. Each piece is quite brief, perhaps just a couple of pages, but they still provide an interesting point of view on our diverse experiences during the pandemic. I particularly recommend Dr. Kapoor’s piece, which speaks to how adults connect with distant parents during a pandemic, and the ties that bind a family.

Shawn Smallman

The Syrian conflict

“Members of the XI International Brigade of the Republican International Brigades at the Battle of Belchite ride on a Soviet T-26 tank.” Испанская_11_интербригада_в_бою_под_Бельчите._1937-edit

The Syrian Civil War (2011-present) has been a test of our current world order, much in the same manner that the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was before World War Two. In both cases, diplomacy and the international organizations proved unable to stem the violence. The two conflicts are also similar in that each has revealed the fissures of the modern global era, and quickly devolved into a proxy conflict. In both cases foreign fighters flocked to the battlefront for ideological reasons. The international volunteers in Republican Spain’s International Brigades (as well as the mostly Communists and anarchists in the POUM militias) have their Islamist parallels in the Syrian civl war. While their ideologies were completely different, in each case you saw young people streaming to the battlefield not because they had been sent by a state, but rather because they felt a sense of duty to a cause. In Spain, the nationalist leader Franco welcomed foreign units from France, Germany, Italy and Morocco, which perhaps parallels how states such as Iran and Russia have sent support to Bashar al Assad in modern Syria.

Of course there are differences in the two wars. After the Spanish Civil War most foreign combatants were welcomed home. Perhaps the key difference, however, in the struggle has been that in Syria a major non-state actor -Hezbollah- has proven to be a key and unified power on the battlefield. Still, even a cursory comparison of the two conflicts leads to a strange feeling of deja vu.

This similarity extends to the realm of military affairs. Much like the Spanish civil war, the Syrian conflict has also proved to be a test of modern military equipment and tactics. In both conflicts external actors lent aid not only to support their allies, but also to test their systems. In the 1930s it was Germany that drew the key lessons from the battles in Spain, particularly regarding the role of close-air support. Western democracies did not pay similar attention to how technology had changed warfare (especially Britain and France), which proved to be a major mistake. In the case of Syria, Hezbollah has made immense progress in urban warfare tactics, while Russia has used the conflict to display its naval and air capabilities. Together with the Iranians, the Russian intervention has changed the course of the war. There can be little question now that the momentum now is with the Syrian regime to such an extent that President Assad can aspire to reclaim control over the entire nation, with the possible exception of the Kurdish region. This is a dramatic change from the state of affairs even two years ago. …

The Top Posts in 2015

Every year I look at the most popular posts for the last year. There are a few common features, one of which is that book reviews are always popular, especially if they cover theory or literature. International mysteries also draw readers, as do teaching materials. Finally, although I haven’t posted many maps, they also attract attention on the blog. At the end of 2015 the top ten blog posts were:

  1. A book review of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe
  2. Sample exam questions for faculty teaching an introductory course using our textbook.
  3. A book review of Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach. 
  4. A blog post that asked what is International and Global Studies?
  5. A recommended films list for an “Introduction to International Studies” class.
  6. A map of Mexican drug cartels.
  7. The mystery of Witches’ Broom in Brazil.
  8. A global map of U.S. security interests.
  9. A syllabus for an “Introduction to International Studies” course.
  10.  A book review of Dave Zirin’s Dance with the Devil.

You can bookmark the blog here. Happy New Year!

Shawn Smallman

Portland State University, 2016

Mel Gurtov’s blog “In the Human Interest”

Mel Gurtov is an Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, and the author of over twenty books on topics that range from the politics of East Asia to Human Security. His blog, “In the Human Interest,” presents analyses of contemporary issues, particularly concerning  East Asia and U.S. foreign policy. I enjoy reading the posts because they consistently provide a thoughtful analysis of a global issue in a manner that reflects both time and expertise. If you are on Facebook, or have ever wondered about the meaning of privacy in a digital age, I recommend his post, “Manipulating Reality: Facebook is listening to you.” The post is likely to leave you feeling a little paranoid. I’m teaching a class on Digital Globalization in a fully online format in winter 2016, and this post will be in the syllabus (You can quick register as a non-degree student at PSU here, and find the class here. Or take a quiz on Digital Globalization to test your knowledge). Gurtov posts regularly, and with nearly a 100 posts there is a lot of content to explore on this blog for anyone interested in International and Global Studies.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

The top ten posts on the blog

Once a year, I like to look at the most popular blog posts. The blog currently receives a little under 1,700 people a month, but 80% of the people who land on the site “bounce,” which means that they leave the blog almost as soon as they arrive. There are roughly 350 people a month who read posts. Most of these people are from the United States, although there are also readers in Canada, Brazil, Great Britain, India, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Germany and Mexico. The top ten blog posts have certain common themes: book reviews are popular, as are posts on theory, literature and sports. I’m really not sure why the latter is the case. People are also fascinated by international mysteries.

Some of you may have also noticed that there is no longer a comment feature on the blog. Sadly, the spam filter was no longer able to deal with the overwhelming number of bots posting to the site. Sometimes there would be an attack, and I’d receive waves of posts to the blog. These would generate mass e-mail notices, each of which would ask me to approve a particular post. UNC decided to disable the comments feature, which has ended this issue, even though I miss hearing peoples’ comments on individual posts.

Here are the top ten posts, based on the most recent data from Google Analytics:

A book review of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe

Realism and Human Security: a map of U.S. Security Interests

Introduction to International Studies syllabus

A book review of Dave Zirin, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil

A book review of Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach

What is International or Global Studies?

Witches Broom: the mystery of bioterrorism and chocolate in Brazil

Broken Arrow: lost nuclear weapons in Canada

International Studies Quiz

Map of Mexican Drug Cartels

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

The Seven Most Read Posts Last Month

I’m always curious to see what posts people are reading on the blog, and where readers are from. Last month, the most viewed post was a book review of Eden Robinson’s novel Monkey Beach, a gothic tale set in an indigenous community in coastal BC. When I wrote that post I worried that it would be too distant from the theme of this blog to attract readers. The second most read post looked at lost nuclear weapons in Canada. Visits to this one post were up nearly 300%, which suggests that people have a sudden interest in this topic, perhaps because there was news coverage of this topic recently? Most of the blog’s readership is in the United States (78%), so it struck me as unusual for both of the top posts to focus on Canadian issues. The third most read post came as no surprise, since I would expect readers to be interested in a syllabus for the “Introduction to International Studies” class. The fourth most viewed post was a book review of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s work, Provincializing Europe; this also made sense because book reviews tend to receive more hits than other posts, and Chakrabarty’s work is a key text in postcolonial theory. The fifth most popular post was a map of U.S. security interests. I often use this map in my introductory class when I am talking about competing theories of security. It tends to foster a good class discussion, and I hope that it has been useful for other faculty. The sixth most viewed post was on the mystery of Witches’ Broom and Bioterrorism in Brazil. Finally, the seventh most read post looked at a spectacular financial fraud in 1920s Portugal. While a story of a daring crime, I wouldn’t have guessed that early twentieth century Portuguese events could attract more readers than contemporary issues. …

Class Assignment: Blog Review and Rubric

In the past, I’ve typically asked students to do a book review in my “Introduction to International Studies”

Image of globe courtesy of digidreamgrafix at
Image of globe courtesy of digidreamgrafix at

course. But as students have increasingly moved to using alternative media sources to get their information, I want to make sure that they are thinking critically about these sources. For this reason, I’ve required that my students this quarter write a review (four pages in length) of one international blog. I’ve told the class that the blog review should be a critical look at the blog, which follows the same basic format as a book review. The review asks what the writer is trying to do, and how well do they do it. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the blog? Once that question is answered, then can explore particular questions the blog raises, connections to the class, etc. But the core of this project is a critical evaluation of the blog itself, rather than a summary of its content.  …

The blog’s top ten most popular posts

Top Ten image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
Top Ten image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Every few months I ask the University of North Carolina Press to send me the statistics for this blog. Amongst the many things that it lets me see is where the blog’s audience is (mainly the U.S., Canada, Great Britain and France), and the total size of the audience (1,347 visitors between February and April 2013). I can also see which posts visitors view the most. Here is a list of the most popular posts to date: …

International Studies Blog

My colleague, Professor Tugrul Keskin, has created a blog for his “Introduction to International Studies” class. The blog posts articles and videos (such as the Hayek versus Keynes rap), and provides links from everything from newspapers to think tanks. It’s a good tool for students trying to find global news or perspectives, or for faculty looking for some classroom material.

Prof. Shawn Smallman

Narco Blogs: Following Mexico’s Drug War

In an earlier post, I talked about Mexico’s drug war. Because the cartels have murdered journalists, and infiltrated news organizations, it can be difficult to follow the conflict using the main-stream Mexican press. For this reason, Mexicans themselves have increasingly turned to blogs that cover the conflict -so called Narco blogs- to gain information that may be difficult for conventional reporters to print. At the same time, some of these blogs clearly play to people’s interest in sensationalism, and most sometimes contain videos or photos that are disturbing and violent, or even have been filmed by the cartels themselves. The bloggers are also facing pressure, although sometimes it is unclear from whom the threats are coming.  In particular, Mexico’s Blog del Narco has had trouble remaining accessible, which has attracted media coverage in the United States. Still, for students interested in Latin America, and what is happening in Mexico, these blogs are a useful resource, particularly if they speak Spanish, so I wanted to list a few here. …

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