What is a great power and how do they act? The renowned German historian Leopold von Ranke defined great power status militarily as the capacity to defy all other powers combined, and historically as the ability to represent a distinct principle in world politics.

Mahan saw the key as lying in naval strength, Mackinder in control of the Eurasian ‘heartland’. Paul Kennedy famously argued that the fate of the great powers was determined by how well they dealt with ‘imperial overstretch’. Today, we include metrics like ‘soft power’ and other factors.

This class, offered to MPhil students at the Departments of Politics and International Relations, explores how definitions of great power status have evolved over the past two hundred years, and what might constitute great power status today. It examines how the European Great Powers behave and how the balance on the continent has shifted over the past ten years or so. The course is an exercise in contemporary history rather than political science and may not be suitable for those with a strong theoretical bent. It is by its very nature Eurocentric.