Getting to Know the IS Program with Professor Renee Marlin-Bennett

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Hello, and welcome to our first edition of “Getting to Know the IS Program”!

In order to promote more unity within the International Studies major, the International Studies Leadership Council has created a bimonthly feature article highlighting the amazing and incredible things students and faculty are doing within the major.

For our first feature article, we have an interview with our very own Renee Marlin-Bennett who is a Professor of Political Science and Faculty Liaison to the International Studies Program. She has been teaching at Hopkins for 10 years and is originally from Southern California. Her academic focus area includes global politics of information and she is interested in borders and embodiment in international relations. Not only is she fluent in English and Spanish, she is also proficient in Modern Hebrew and has a working proficiency with French and Modern Standard Arabic. This semester, she is teaching “Imagining Borders” and “Advanced Topics in Global Politics: Learning Through Research”. Here is what she had to say about international studies!

What brought you to Hopkins?

There were several reasons.  I’m happy to be here and feel that I have grown as a scholar because of my colleagues, the Ph.D. students, and the undergraduates.

Why do you think International Studies is important? 

There are two main parts to this answer.  First, why is International Studies so important to study today?  Answer 1a: In today’s world, we need people who can question, investigate, analyze, write, and speak about the complex global problems of our times, the opportunities for cooperation, and the conflicts and their consequences.  Answer 1b: Even if students don’t end up working directly on such global issues, understanding global contexts is especially important in our hyper-connected world.  Entrepreneurs and employees benefit from having that deep understanding of the global context.  The context is also important for being an informed citizen.

The second part of the answer responds to why International Studies is important to me.  Answer 2a: In the summer of 1972 (I was almost 13), I went on a cruise to the Caribbean with my parents.  I remember the cruise director presenting a lecture on Haiti. He told us that US government aid had gone into the pockets of Papa Doc and his son and successor, Baby Doc [Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier], and that the average Haitian lived on only $72 a year.   At the same time, the cruise director warned us not to give any money to the beggars because if we did, we would never be able to see any of the sites since other beggars would just swarm us.  When we docked in Cap Haitien, there were, indeed, numerous beggars.  My father could not avoid giving any money, so getting into the cab was something of a challenge.  Driving into the hills, we saw poverty like I had never seen before.  Here I saw children – children my age — with the distended bellies of severe malnutrition.  I was a fat white kid seeing the sites while staying on a fancy cruise ship.  The jarring differences in our lives and our life chances struck me – and has never left.  For me, international studies are at heart the question: Why am I so darn lucky while others, just as deserving as I, are not?

Answer 2b.  I found the intellectual way to wrestle with (but never answer) that question in high school.  In my freshman year at Sunny Hills High, my World History teacher, Mrs. Kathy Van Clief, saw me looking at the bulletin board for the “IR Club” – my high school’s Model UN Club.  She encouraged me to join.  The first country I represented was Upper Volta.  I don’t remember which committee, but I was bitten by the MUN bug.  My teacher also encouraged me to take the social science elective course she taught: “International Relations.”  Even better, we were allowed to take the course a second time (different readings) the following year.  We read serious works of scholarship including a chapter from one of Hans J. Morgenthau’s famous works, which still resonates in my own scholarship, as well as serious pieces of analysis from Foreign Affairs and similar publications.  Subsequently, I was an International Studies major at Pomona College.  My doctorate from MIT is in Political Science, with International Relations as my primary field.

And IS continues to fascinate and perplex me.

What are your favorite aspects of the major?

The Aronson International Experience grants!

Are you currently doing any research? If not, what was your latest research project or a research project you hope to start in the future?

Yes!  I’m really excited about my research project that looks at information in terms of control of flows of information, with information flow including content, velocity, and access.  I’ve been working on this for quite a while now and chapters are beginning to come together for the book.  I have already published a couple of articles that draw on research from this project.

Also, I’m the editor-in-chief of a huge project of the International Studies Association that was called the International Studies Encyclopedia or International Studies Online  ( — my name shows up once you click the link to the Oxford Reference page).  It is being re-created as the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies (soon to be available online).

We thank Professor Renee Marlin-Bennett for her time and dedication to the International Studies Program! Please check back here in two weeks for our second article, highlighting two undergraduates, Daniel Kim and David Hamburger.

If you know a student, faculty member or academic program that you think should be featured, please contact Sarah Fauska at