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Research Workshop: Reform en Anti-Reform


Admission requirements

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


If we can change the world we live in, are we not morally obliged to try to improve living conditions of those suffering? In the nineteenth century this was a pressing question for an increasing group of men and women. Especially in Great-Britain and the United States countless reform initiatives were organized, to end slavery, alcohol abuse, animal cruelty, and many other evils. These initiatives aimed to change the ideas and the behaviour of the rest of the population.

Reformers used several strategies to persuade their fellow countrymen to stop drinking, to give up slave sugar, and to stop flogging their dogs and horses (among many other things). Not everyone was easily persuaded of course. Many people were highly critical of these reform efforts, and experienced them as an infringement on their personal liberties. Reformers were opposed by ‘anti-reformers’, who countered reform arguments and ridiculed the reformers. Catherine Hall has referred to the debates over slavery in the 1820s as a ‘war of representation’: stories of slavery as either good or bad competed in the public sphere. In this course we will study how both reformers and anti-reformers were trying to push their own competing frames onto the public at large. In that sense, this course is relevant to today’s polical culture with its intense wars of representation (now often referenced by words like framing, fake news, ‘social justice warriors’, gaslighting, social media bubbles etc).

In this course, we will examine the arguments and strategies of both reformers and anti-reformers in primary source material from the 19th century. Through close reading pamphlets, newspapers, and speeches from American and British reformers and their critics, we will be able to establish how exactly people challenged, or defended, the status quo. What arguments were used? How was authority established or denied by an author? How did authors play on the emotions of readers, for instance through empathy or contempt? What role did satire and ridicule play?

This course is based on my own ongoing research into this topic, and aimed at helping students to better read, understand, and use primary sources in their own writing.

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;

    1. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  • 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 specialization

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;

    1. 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) knows how to close-read, analyse and critically reflect on the use of different kinds of primary sources, and use them effectively and creatively in the practice of historical research.

  • 14) Has aquired in-depth knowledge of rhetorical strategies used by 19th century reformers and their critics

  • 15) Has acquired in-depth knowledge of the ‘war of representation’


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Workshop (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 final report (3000 words, based on discussion of primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-15

  • Assignments
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 15

  • Participation in class and online
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 8-9. 11-14


  • Written final report: 75 %

  • Participation in class and online, including small assignments: 25%

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

Will be announced through Brightspace.


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.M.J. Janse