About Our Program

Vision and Values

The International Studies Major takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying global issues. This work is guided by what we call an IS perspective, and is grounded in three core ideas:

  • (1)  A relational, interactional, contextually rooted understanding of global forces and dynamics
  • (2)  The mutual constitution of the global and the local
  • (3)  The importance of a broad, interdisciplinary approach to global issues

International Studies approaches questions and issues both from an inside-out and an outside-in perspective. We consider forces at the global level to be just as important as local-level actors and interactions. This perspective means that we often approach global issues from a grassroots perspective. That is, we emphasize context-sensitive, place-based approaches over abstract, predictive models. We also advocate relational analysis. Rather than viewing different places as separate, bounded communities—“us” and “them”—we look at the transnational ties that bind together the fates of people in different parts of the world. As we try to understand complex global interactions we strive to integrate and build on the best ideas from relevant disciplines. Instead of confining ourselves to one set of tools we seek to find the most suitable framework for the task at hand.

At the core of the International Studies major is a fundamental recognition that world outside of the United States and outside of the Global North matters, and matters in its own right. In International Studies we seek to understand not only how global forces are reshaping nations, communities and individuals, but also how from-below forces are reshaping the globe. Furthermore, we understand all of these processes to affect one another. As a result, rather than isolating a particular issue the emphasis in International Studies is on how challenges such as poverty, insecurity, ill health, and climate change are entangled with one another.

Learning Outcomes and Objectives

Through pursuing an IS Major our students should be able to:

  • Approach global questions through the lens of unequal interdependencies.
  • Understand how our lives are shaped by global interdependencies.
  • Analyze case studies to understand the impacts of global interdependencies on people and places in other parts of the world. Integrate place-based studies to move from abstract conceptions to everyday lived experiences.
  • Develop critical thinking skills to evaluate arguments about the causes and consequences of global processes. Approach dominant preconceptions of the world critically and evaluate them with data.
  • Analyze evidence to construct their own arguments about global transformations. Develop independent research skills and learn to communicate findings effectively.
  • Apply an interdisciplinary sensibility to global processes outside of the classroom. Bring the skills acquired in IS to understanding events and processes beyond the classroom.

Institutional Statement On Diversity

Diversity is a source of strength, creativity, and innovation for UW–Madison. We value the contributions of each person and respect the profound ways their identity, culture, background, experience, status, abilities, and opinion enrich the university community. We commit ourselves to the pursuit of excellence in teaching, research, outreach, and diversity as inextricably linked goals.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison fulfills its public mission by creating a welcoming and inclusive community for people from every background — people who as students, faculty, and staff serve Wisconsin and the world.

The IS Major has three tracks of specialization. Students choose a track when they declare.

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Global Security

Causes and solutions to political crises, violent conflicts, and human rights challenges in interstate, transnational, and domestic settings.

Politics and Policy in the Global Economy

Why do we live in a world of haves and have-nots? Is it possible to “make poverty history” and, if so, how? This track offers a multidisciplinary survey of the key factors that shape the distribution of wealth and resources in our world. This includes institutions that govern international trade and transactions, different regimes of aid, development, and philanthropy, issues related to natural resource use and environmental problems, the interactions between states and markets, and the politics of alternative and non-market economies. The track offers both quantitative and qualitative approaches to understanding the global economy drawing from a range of disciplines.

Culture in the Age of Globalization

How do global interactions shape culture?  How is culture shaped by global interactions? These are the fundamental questions we explore in this track. To ask these questions we think about culture as something that we do (as opposed to something that “is”)—we are constantly creating and re-creating culture through our practices, and those practices are often influenced by (or influence) the practices of people in other places. In this track you will have the opportunity to think about how people make meaning in their world and the ways in which group identities, boundaries and meanings are continually created, maintained and transformed, often through global interactions. Substantive topics include gender, social class, ethnicity, religion, music, art, film, media, literature, food, sports, language, migration, and nationalism, just to name a few. Our focus throughout is on the intercultural—the ways that systems of meaning interact within and across social and political boundaries in ways facilitated by transnational migration, new information technologies and global markets.

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Program History

The International Studies Major was created in 1936 as the International Relations Major to help prepare students to work for the Foreign Service. Originally the major’s focus was on American foreign policy, but over time grew to encompass various regional tracks. After the end of the Cold War, the program adapted to reflect the changing global and methodological landscape. In 1999, the International Relations Major officially became the International Studies Major and included perspectives of various disciplines outside of Political Science. Today, the International Studies Major incorporates more than 40 different departments to offer a comprehensive view of the contemporary world.

The International Studies Major is focused on undergraduate education in a liberal arts tradition. We value undergraduate teaching and learning; as such graduate students are not permitted in International Studies courses.

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