Charles Lipson
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E-mail: [email protected]


Charles Lipson

Peter B. Ritzma Professor

Political Science Department

University of Chicago

5828 S. University Ave.

Chicago, IL 60637


Timeline Assignment for World Politics: A History

Political Science 214& 324
Charles Lipson

University of Chicago

E-mail: [email protected]


Basic Timeline/Dictionary Assignment

Creating a timeline/dictionary is one of the two written course assignments.

The timeline is a chronology of approximately 15 significant events on one topic in one selected period.  The topic itself should be reflected in a clear title on the paper.

The dictionary is an annotated list of approximately 15 people, places, and events related to your chronology.

If you have questions about your timeline, please read the instructions below and then feel free to contact your TA.

All papers must have a title and must include your name, phone, and e-mail address. Please staple. No cover or cover page is needed.

Timeline Assignment Explained in Detail

Pick one issue or theme within the time period of the course and create (a) a timeline of major events related to that topic and (b) a dictionary of key people and events for that same topic, with brief descriptions. If possible, please put the exact day of any event you list. The timeline and dictionary may be done as small group projects, with friends in the class if you wish. This is a real opportunity for group learning.

Chronology (or timeline) of key events + dictionary of key persons, terms, and events in one historical period.

For Pol Sci. 214-00 (covering the period 1814-1914), topics might include

  • the Congress System;
  • the rise of free trade, or its decline;
  • the rise of the Gold Standard;
  • the Crimean War;
  • German or Italian Unification;
  • major features of the Meiji Restoration;
  • the evolution of European empires;
  • major changes in military technology;
  • or a number of other topics.

For Pol Sci. 216-00 (covering the period 1945-91), topics might include

  • rise of the Cold War in Europe, Asia, or worldwide;
  • evolution of the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank, International Monetary Fund),
  • decline of empires after World War II,
  • or a number of others.

Pick a period or theme that interests you. If you are uncertain what constitutes an appropriate time period, please consult Professor Lipson or your teaching assistant. The paper, dictionary, or timeline must concentrate on the time period of the course. The material can focus on any region of the world. It can focus on international diplomacy, economics, or military issues, or a variety of other international issues for that matter (such as environmental politics, international institutions, migration, or other topics). Some material from earlier or later periods may be included to complete a paper or timeline that concentrates on the time period of the course itself.

You may use reference works, scholarly books, and the web to help your research. However, you may not "cut and paste" or lift material directly from other works. That is plagiarism. You must reword and reinterpret the events and definitions.

What a timeline should do? A timeline should list the major events in proper sequence, with dates given for each. It should provide a few essential details to clarify the event; the dictionary entry should offer more detail. Please select carefully so that you include the key events and avoid extraneous material. You must give a clear title to the timeline/dictionary so that it clearly specifies and delimits the topic you are studying.  Here, for example, is the beginning of a timeline on early Soviet industrialization, done superbly by a student in PS21500 (covering world politics between 1914 and 1945). It is displayed with her permission.

Sample Timeline: Rapid Industrialization in the Soviet Union in the Interwar Period

1917 Bolshevik Revolution results in overthrow of the Provisional Government; Communist seize control of government under V. Y. Lenin; Decree on Land Passed
1918 Russia withdraws from World War I; State seized all proper and land of Russian Orthodox Church, businesses, and banks
1921 Soviet industry lagging behind: iron production is at 1/5 of the 1913 level, coal runs at 3% of the prewar level, railways have less than half the locomotives they had at the beginning of the war. Lenin initiates NEP (New Economic Policy).
1922 Union Treaty joins Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Transcausasus (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) into the Soviet Union.
1924 USSR Constitution, which in part provides for public ownership of land and means of production, is ratified. Soviet Union establishes official relations with the major European powers. Lenin dies in January
1924-29 J. V. Stalin consolidates his control by forcing majority of leading Bolsheviks out of power.
1927 NEP results in revival of the economy: agricultural and industrial production returns to its prewar levels. Trotsky expelled from the Party. Stalin initiates "revolution from above."
Entries continue up to 1940

Dictionary Assignment Explained in Detail

Related to the timeline, you should produce a brief dictionary covering 15 or more key events, terms, and people during the same period covered by the chronology. Dictionary entries should range between 10 and 50 words, providing brief definitions and discussions for each entry. Dictionary entries should provide key dates and briefly explain the significance of major events, people, and places. Again, you may draw on reference works but the entries should be entirely in your own words.

Sample Dictionary: Rapid Industrialization in the Soviet Union in the Interwar Period

People (lists several) for example:

Vladimir Ilyich

Founder of the Communist Party, the mastermind and the main leader of the 1917 Revolution, founder of the Comintern, (1917-1924) Lenin serves as the first head of the Soviet State and its virtual dictator


Terms (lists several) for example:

A policy adopted by Stalin and most aggressively pursued between 1929 and 1933, meant to transform traditional agriculture in and to eliminate the kulaks; a brutal campaign that annihilated the peasantry and resulted in deaths of more than 5,000,000 in southern Russia and Ukraine from starvation.


Events (lists several) for example:
NEP New Economic Policy, initiated by Lenin in 1921; a mixture of socialism and capitalism that allowed the state to keep control of heavy industry, banking and transport, while allowing a free internal market, i.e. private shops, restaurants, and small scale agriculture; a step to subdue massive peasant revolts that began to threaten Bolshevik power. Lenin called NEP "a step backward in order to go forward."

What should dictionary lists include? Let me give some examples. A list covering the early Cold War would certainly include the "Truman Doctrine," "Berlin Blockade," "NATO," "European Recovery Program," and "NSC-68," among others. Some entries, like the formation of NATO, might be longer and should list the initial members of the alliance. On the other hand, it is a dictionary entry, not a monograph, so be concise. When individuals are mentioned, the entry should include their full name, years of birth and death, and years in high office, e.g., George C. Marshall (1880-1959), General of the U.S. Army and its chief of staff during World War II (1939-45), Secretary of State (1947-49) and Secretary of Defense (1950-51).

You can, if you wish, produce a chronology and dictionary covering a theme, rather than a time period. For example, you might cover "major issues in international trade" (listing the biggest treaties, disputes, etc.) or "developments in applied military technology" or "the rise of European integration."

Purpose of Timeline + Dictionary

This assignment should familiarize you with a major historical topic that you have chosen and give you a solid basis to evaluate different historians writing on that topic. That is, it should prepare you to work on the longer historiographic essay dealing with the same topic as the timeline/dictionary.

Group Project?

The chronology and dictionary may be either "group projects" or "individual projects."

That is, 2-5 students may organize themselves to produce the timeline and dictionary as group projects. This is an excellent opportunity for group learning, not just on the written projects but on the assigned readings as well. By the same token, students are free to do the projects individually if they choose. If some students do decide to work as a group, then their dictionaries and timelines should be somewhat more extensive than individual assignments. The group should not only divide the work, they should review each other's efforts and produce a genuine joint product. Each group project will receive a single grade, which will apply equally to all participants.


The grades for the timeline and dictionary will constitute about 25 percent of your grade for the course. The remaining 75% comes from the historiographic essay or research paper, which you must write individually.
For discussion of the longer paper, click here

Undergrad & Grad     

World Politics from the 1490s to 1815: A History

Political Science 213 & 323
World Politics in the Nineteenth Century: A History Political Science 214 & 324
World Politics in the Twentieth Century, 1914-45: A History Political Science 215 & 325
World Politics in the Twentieth Century: The Cold War A History Political Science 216 & 326
Big Wars: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Political Science 291 & 392
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