nl en

Politicians and Statesmen. Professionalization, Activism and Perception since the 18th Century


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


Politicians have almost always had a doubtful reputation. They have been seen as hustlers, careerists and carpetbaggers. If they were amateurs, they did not deliver, if they were professionals, they were just minding their own interest. According to the general public, there have often only been a few exceptions, who were called statesmen (stateswomen were still hard to imagine). In this course we will research what it has meant to be a politician (since the 18th century). We will ask what the difference has been between politicians, and civil servants or administrators – the last category often tried to present itself as technocrats above ‘politics’. It will prove difficult to draw the line between these categories. Activists have also often said that they were no wheeling and dealing ‘politicians’, because they wanted to remain true to their ideological cause. Perhaps one of the reasons of criticism of politicians has been that they form such an ‘impure’ middle category. On the other hand, Politicians have often tried to develop a professional ethos of their own, but the criteria of professionalism have differed from one wave of professionalizing to the next. Were professional politicians people who knew: how to deal with the king and how to behave at court (18th century)? How to act in parliament (19th)? How to organize a political party and rise in the party bureaucracy and/or to manage the government (20th)? Or how to manage images and the media (21st)?

In our course we will concentrate on the Netherlands as a case study (which is why it is a distinct advantage if you have at least passive knowledge of Dutch), but for the general questions we will use international literature and it will be possible to choose other case studies, perhaps also to do comparative research. In the framework of this course, different types of essays will be possible. Many will like to concentrate on one or a couple of examples, and take a biographical approach in order to study what it meant to be a politician ‘seen from the inside’, others will want to study the perception of politicians, the attacks on their ‘profession’ or perhaps the counterexample of a model statesman. But it will also be possible to study, for instance, what is has meant to be a female politician or to study the male stereotypes of the role of politicians. Possible sources include personal archives of politicians, their biographies (which we will read in a new way), the media (for the images of politicians), and still other sources to map the more general processes of professionalization.The students will start the course by interviewing a politician who is or was working at the national level, about what it means to be a politician today. We will discuss classical and international literature about politicians, and the students will (besides their final paper) reflect in writing on what they have learned during the course.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  • 1) The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 2) The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 3) The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical pr)blem;

  • 4) The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 5) The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  • 6) The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  • 7) The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  • 8) The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • 9) The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  • 10) (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  • 11) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;

  • in the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;

  • 12) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities: international comparison and transfer; the analysis of the specific perspectives of secondary studies; a cultural-historical approach of politics and a political-historical approach of culture.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) will gain insight in the development of the role of the politician

  • 14) will be able to discuss the different conceptions of being a politician

  • 15) will produce an essay that presents the results of empirical research combined with the insights gained in the course

  • 16) (ResMA only – will be able to discuss his/her findings in the final paper in light of the general historical or theoretical literature about politicians)


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6500-7500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-15 (ResMA also 16)

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-7, 9 (ResMA also 10)

  • Assignments: interviewing of selected (national) politicians; discussing relevant literature in class; writing reflections about the course
    measured learning objectives: 1-12


  • Written paper: 70 %

  • Oral presentation: 10 %

  • Assignments: 20 %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.

Reading list

To be announced at the start of the course.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof. dr. H. te Velde