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Global Intellectual History before Modernity: Challenge or Madness?


Admission requirements

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


This seminar explores the possibilities and impossibilities of intellectual global history by taking stock of some of the most influential and inspiring studies. The main questions to be discussed: How to avoid Eurocentrism or other varieties of regional centrism, or shouldn’t we? How to write truly global intellectual history given our limited language capabilities. The same question considering the world’s ongoing assymetric power relations? What spatial and temporal categories should we use to write such histories? What theoretical and methodological perspectives are the most promising at present: e.g. what do comparative, connective and entangled approaches offer to the global historian?

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

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

  • 2) 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;

  • 3) 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;

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

  • 5) (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:

  • 6) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: how global (political, socio-economic, and cultural) connections interact with regional processes of identity and state formation; hence insight in cross-cultural processes (including the infrastructure of shipping and other modes of communication) that affect regions across the world such as imperialism, colonisation, islamisation, modernisation and globalisation (in particular during the period 1200-1940).

  • 7) (ResMA only): Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis-à-vis other disciplines.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Literature Seminar

The student:

  • 8) Thorough knowledge and comprehesion of the field of Global Intellectual History.


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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


  • Essay
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4-6, 8

  • Assignment 1 (Discussion research question)
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4-6, 8

  • Assignment 2 (Oral discussion monograph)
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4-6, 8

  • Assignment 3 (Critical reflection on Assignment 2)
    measured learning objectives: 3


  • Written essay: 50 %

  • Assignment 1: 10 %

  • Assignment 2: 20 %

  • Assignment 3: 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.


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

Exam review

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.

Reading list

Per category, each student reads 1 monograph in full (to be decided in class during the first meeting).

Sebastian Conrad, What is Global History? (Princeton: Princeton Press; Princeton and Oxford, 2016) AND Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori (eds), Global Intellectual History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), pp. 1-81.

1. Beyond Orientalism:

  • Pioneer: Edward Said

  • Anthony Grafton, New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992).

  • Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, New Edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).

2. Axial Breakthroughs:

  • Pioneer: Karl Jaspers

  • Jan Assmann, Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Montheism (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998).

  • Alan Strathern, Unearthly Powers: Religious and Political Change in World History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

3. Beyond Civilizations:

  • Pioneer: Max Weber

  • Shaheb Ahmad, What is Islam: The Importance of Being Islamic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017).

  • Sheldon Pollock, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture and Power in Premodern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016).

4. Global Micro Commensurabilities:

  • Pioneer: Carlo Ginzburg

  • Natalie Zemon Davis, Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth-Century Muslim between Words (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007).

  • Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Courtly Encounters: Translating Courtliness and Violence in Early Modern Eurasia (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012).

5. Scientific Revolution

  • Pioneer: Joseph Needham

  • Toby E. Huff, *Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective *(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

  • Christopher I. Beckwith, Warriors of the Cloisters: The Central Asian Origins of Science in the Medieval World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).

6. Unveiling the Occult:

  • Pioneer: Frances Yates

  • Wouter Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

  • Azfar Moin, The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. C.M. Stolte


Not applicable.