Case Study assignment and rubric for a Global Studies Theory class

Yesterday I shared a syllabus for a hybrid global studies class. Today I wanted to share a rubric that I adapted for a case study project in this theory class. The assignment itself is quite easy to summarize: “Case Study: The student will write an eight to ten page paper, which will briefly apply two (or more) theories to the same global issue, and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each. The paper will be uploaded into Assignments by 5pm on Monday of exam week: 25% of final grade.”

The goal of this project was to have students reflect on how to apply more than one theory to a particular situation. In this way, I hoped that they might begin to realize that theories can be like tools in a tool box. It’s useful to try more than one approach to understand a situation, and to evaluate their respective strengths and weaknesses.

One challenge with this assignment is that students might be tempted to use a paper that they have written for another class, perhaps not understanding that it is possible to self-plagiarize. This happened. In order to avoid this, I would carefully explain that this is not permitted, but more importantly scaffold the work throughout the quarter; that is, in week four they would share an outline in the discussion board, in week 6 share their first three pages. In this way, not only would students be able to give feedback on each other’s papers, but also you could see they were truly creating the work.

Please note that I didn’t use this assignment in all my theory classes, including the hybrid class for which I shared the syllabus yesterday, in which I instead used a slideshow project. Although the content is mine, I don’t know who created the original rubric framework (especially the grading key) that I adapted. It had passed through too many hands by the time it reached me. If anyone knows, please contact me and I will give them credit.

Case Study Rubric

Student Name: _______________________________________________

Content Writing and Organization Originality and Insight 
The writer demonstrates a mastery of both the theory and the specific case. The student clearly explains the strengths and the weakness of the theories. Their work is based on excellent research with well-chosen articles. The writer supports their arguments with specific detail.
The essay is well-organized, flows logically, and has an introductory and concluding paragraph. The paper is free from grammar and spelling mistakes.
The essay is original and demonstrates insight. The student has a number of new ideas or arguments. The essay’s creativity leads the reader take a fresh perspective on issues.
The writer has demonstrated sufficient understanding of the theory and the specific case. There is adequate research. The writer uses specific examples and detail to support their argument.
The essay is well organized and flows logically, but lacks a clear beginning or conclusion. The organization could have been tighter, although their argument is clear. There are few grammar and spelling mistakes.
The essay shows insight or creativity.
The writer generally shows their understanding of the theory and specific case, although at times they could have used more detail and demonstrated a great mastery of the material. They could have more clearly described the strengths and weaknesses of the theories.
The essay has some organization, but sometimes jumps from one topic to the next. There is no clear beginning or conclusion. There are frequent grammar or spelling mistakes.
While the essay has some originality and insight, it is not highly creative and has only occasional insights.
Needs Improvement
The essay has does not convincingly demonstrate the student’s mastery of the theory and specific case. Key detail is sometimes omitted, or there are errors in their discussion of theory.
Needs Improvement
The essay sometimes rambles. The transition from one section to the next is not always clear, or the argument does not flow well. The essay lacks an introduction or conclusion. There are significant grammar and spelling mistakes.
Needs Improvement
The essay has few examples of original arguments or insight. The essay does not demonstrate thoughtful reflection.
The essay fails to demonstrate the students understanding of either the theory involved, or the specific case. The paper lacks critical supporting detail, or the research was insufficient. 
The essay lacks organization, and jumps from one topic to the next without any coherence. The essay is either too brief to adequately cover the topic, or too disorganized. The grammar and spelling mistakes are so significant that they detract from the argument.
The paper lacks original thought or new ideas. There is little or no evidence of reflection or fresh insight.
Grading: A = All excellent A- = Mostly excellent B/B+ = Mostly Good C+/B- = Good with some sufficient C or below = Mostly Sufficient to Needs Improvement D or below= Mostly Weak or Needs Improvement

Remember: students may not use material from another paper that they have written.

Sharing a syllabus for a Global Studies Theory class

I’ve shared a syllabus before for my face-to-face theory class, but that was from 2012. Although I haven’t taught the course for while now, I wanted to share this more recent syllabus for a hybrid class, in case anyone else is interested in using it. Please feel free to take, adapt, and use this syllabus in any way that you might want. Please click on page “2” below to view. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll also share more assignments, rubrics and lectures for the course.

Development- an Introduction to International Studies lecture

Ruined palace from the mid-fourteenth century in Fez, Morocco.

This is a lecture on development for an “Introduction to International Studies” course. It was last updated about 2012, so it would need to be adapted with more current materials for today’s classroom. I also haven’t provided citations. But some of this material actually draws on notes from my own undergraduate classes, so one old friend may recognize some of these points. I should also caution that I am not a development scholar, so this lecture only touches on key issues and theories. It was also first taught in an “Introduction to Latin American Studies” class, so there are more references to that region in it. But I hope that some faculty may find some inspiration here, and be able to adapt this for their own classes.



Modernization Theory






  • one of the first things everyone learns about Latin America or Africa is that they not as economically developed as other countries
  • these regions are very wealthy in some respects
  • major industry, rich natural resources, critical number of engineers and technical experts in many countries
  • yet large numbers of people live in extreme poverty
  • why have these regions not succeeded in developing their economy as other areas have?
  • why are so many people there so poor?
  • wide range of theories to address this question
  • today: lecture about different theories of development
  • effort to explain the difference between developed countries and less developed countries
  • lets look at the characteristics of the two levels of development

Brazil and populism

Few topics have attracted as much writing in recent years as the rise of populism and nationalism. I was interviewed recently by a student reporter at PSU, who wanted to talk to me about Jair Bolsanaro’s rise in Brazil. How does a politician -who served as an officer during the dictatorship, and has made offensive comments about many groups-  win the Brazilian presidency? Of course, Brazilians are exhausted by the endless political scandals, which have left one previous president impeached, and another in prison. Anyone who once promised to shut down Congress will attract votes in this context. The Worker’s Party failed to denounce its leaders for corruption, which cost them legitimacy. I quoted Bolsanaro in my book on military terror in Brazil, in which he said that 30,000 corrupt officials needed to be lined up and shot. He made that statement about twenty years ago. Brazilians have been so frustrated by the massive scandal involving Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras, that these and similar comments probably helped more than hurt him. …

Fighting Conspiracy Theories

“Witness Howard Brennan sitting in the identical spot across from the Texas School Book Depository four months after the assassination. Circle “A” indicates where he saw Oswald fire a rifle at the motorcade.” By Howard Leslie Brennan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Caption text from Wikimedia Commons also.
Apart from Murray in Stranger Things, and the Lone Gunmen in the X-files, most conspiracy theorists don’t have secret knowledge that the majority of humanity is unable to accept. Instead, people turn to conspiracy theories when they feel disempowered and desperate. Conspiracy theories thrive during times of crisis, such as a pandemic, or a profound political crisis. They also emerge at times when trust in government is low. I’ve done work (with my wonderful colleague Leopoldo Rodriguez) on a conspiracy theory in Argentina that focused on the death of government prosecutor Alberto Nisman. In the Argentine case, these conspiracy theories absorbed the news and attention of an entire nation. But during the 2009 influenza pandemic, conspiracy theories became truly global, as people told these narratives from Mexico to Europe. I studied this phenomenon in an article that is open access:

Shawn Smallman, “Whom Do You Trust? Doubt and Conspiracy Theories in the 2009 Influenza Pandemic” Journal of International and Global Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2: pp. 1-24. While its helpful to document instances of conspiracy theories, it’s more important to understand how to combat them when they can cause damage, particularly in the field of global health. How do health authorities fight conspiracy theories about vaccination, which are not only making it more difficult to eradicate polio, but also costing health workers their lives?

Globalization and Globalism

Last spring one of my students asked me to explain the difference between globalization and globalism. This is what I said, but I am curious to hear how other people would have answered the question:

“There are many different definitions of globalization, but it’s generally understood as the flows of people, ideas, culture, funds and biology at a global scale, which connects disparate parts of the globe. Globalism is often (not always) defined as the policy and ideas of those people/nations that support globalization, which is frequently equated with neoliberalism. Globalism is a sometimes politically loaded term, because it is frequently used by those who oppose globalization, to critique the policies of elites that favor financial and political globalization. It’s also a more complicated term to define, because different groups use the word in varied ways.” …

Peace Treaties and Ancient China

Map of the Chinese plain, 5 century BC. Start of the Warring States Period. By Yug [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Although we think of arms control and peace treaties as relatively modern concepts, they have ancient roots. I’ve been reading Richard Louis Walker’s book, The Multi-State System of Ancient China, which was published by Shoe String press in 1953. He describes major negotiations that followed a period of devastating warfare during the Spring and Autumn period, as contending states struggled for primacy in China. Interestingly, his description of how the ancient states of China interacted would be all too familiar to a scholar in the modern Realist School. The idea of a Balance of power dominated Chinese politics in this distant time period in the same manner that it did in Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In the sixth century BC a Sung statesman named Hsiang Shu (p. 56) lobbied the courts of multiple Chinese states, to try to reach an agreement to end the perpetual warfare. Even states that had little interest in negotiations found that they had no choice but to at least pretend to take part:

“The states had, of course, at least to pretend an interest in his idea. A Chin leader said, “War is destructive to the people, an insect that eats up the resources of a State, and the greatest calamity of all small States. If any one try to put an end to it, though we think it cannot be done, we must sanction his proposal. If we do not, Ch’u will do so, and proceed to call the States together, so that we shall lose the presidency of the covenants.” (Walker, 56).

As Walker describes (56-57) fourteen major states took part of in the discussion. Predictably, once an agreement was reached there was a dispute between the two most powerful states over who should sign first (57). The negotiations had gone so poorly that during the meetings “the Ch’u representatives even wore armor.” (57). In the end, even though an agreement was reached to end warfare, many states refused to sign, while the signatories ignored it (57).

As for statesman and peace-maker Hsian Shu, he sought a reward from the Prime Minister of Sung, to whom he presented a signed copy of the treaty. The Prime Minister responded with scorn, in a speech that deserves to be as frequently remembered in International Relations studies as the Melian Dialogue recorded by the Greek historian Thucydides. According to the Prime Minister of Sung, war was an inevitable tool of statecraft. To seek to abandon these tools was a delusion. He told Hsian Shu that he was lucky to have escaped without punishment, but now he was coming to him looking for a reward. The Prime Minister cut the copy of the treaty to pieces and threw it away (58).

Without the signature of all major states the peace treaty had no power, and the bitter wars continued.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

Conspiracy Theories and Zika

Conspiracy theories have long fascinated me. I’ve published (with my colleague Leopoldo Rodriguez) on the death of Alberto Nisman in Argentina, and the conspiracy theories that tragedy spawned. I’ve also written about the conspiracy theories that circulated regarding the 2009 H1N1 influenza epidemic. More recently, I’ve been doing research on the Zika epidemic. I’ve just published an article, “Conspiracy Theories and the Zika epidemic,” which you can view in the open-access Journal of International and Global Studies. …

The Nisman Conspiracy Theories

In Argentina a judge has just ruled that the death of Alberto Nisman was a murder, not a suicide. One of Nisman’s old employees was also charged as an accessory to murder. Nisman’s death has been an ongoing mystery, after he was found dead with a bullet wound in his head, the day that he was supposed to testify to Congress regarding a potential government coverup in the 1994 AMIA bombing.

My colleague Leopoldo Rodriguez and I wrote an article on this topic, which was published at an open-source journal. The focus of our work was the competing conspiracy theories regarding the Nisman case, and how they reflected not only the nation’s political divisions but also its history. If you are interested in this topic, please read our article, which is freely available.

Rodriguez, L. and Smallman, S. (2016). Political Polarization and Nisman’s Death: Competing Conspiracy Theories in Argentina. Journal of International and Global Studies Volume 8, Number 1, p. 20-39.

The article ended with these sentences: “The best path forward would likely be for the Argentine state to ask for a panel of international experts to investigate both the AMIA bombing and Nisman’s death. This step is unlikely, given the interests of different political actors and the power of nationalism in Argentine political discourse. Nonetheless, only this step is likely to restore public trust and thereby weaken the power of conspiracy theories in Argentina.”

Are you interested in Latin America. You can find my own book on military terror in Brazilian history here.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Protest march in Buenos Aires 1 year death anniversary of Alberto Nisman. By Jaluj (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Remembering Colonialism’s Horrors

Burning of a Village in Africa, and Capture of its Inhabitants (p.12, February 1859, XVI). By Wesleyan Juvenile Offering [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The human costs of colonialism were staggering. Slavery was integral to the political economy of imperial powers from the 16th to 19th century, because of the huge profits that it generated. At times France received more wealth from slave production on the small colony of Haiti than from any other of its colonies, including New France. In King Leopold’s Ghost, Adam Hochschild has described how perhaps half the population of Congo -roughly 10 million people- died during Belgian rule in the 1880s.

From Australia to the Americas Indigenous Peoples were dispossessed of their lands, and confronted by a cultural genocide that lasted centuries. Some native peoples of the Caribbean nearly vanished during a horrific period of epidemic disease, land loss, and overwork. The experience of the Spanish conquest was so terrible that many Indigenous families in the Caribbean simply chose to stop having children after the Spanish arrived (or were unable to maintain families), so that their populations declined with stunning speed. In Potosí, Bolivia thousands of Indigenous Peoples and African slaves died mining the silver that funded Spanish wars and palaces. While epidemic diseases devastated Indigenous communities, so did the entire structure of colonialism, which led to a demographic collapse throughout the Americas. This was so extreme that it lasted for centuries. …

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