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The End of the World in Medieval and Early Modern Europe


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


The end of the world has been predicted countless times over the course of history without ever materializing. Throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period, many Christians turned to the New Testament, particularly the Revelation of Saint John, to make sense of the turmoils they were living through, and even to provide scripts for action. Wars, political crises, epidemics and natural disasters were typically interpreted as signs of divine wrath and warnings before the Last Judgment. With the destruction of the physical world came the question of life after death and, with it, the Second Coming of Christ ushering in his thousand-year reign, the millennium. Beyond pure theological concerns, these questions had major political, social and cultural consequences that few historians recognize today.

This research seminar explores how Christian apocalypticism has shaped medieval and early modern culture and political life. We will start by discussing overviews of the period and familiarise ourselves with the latest scholarship in the field. Looking at major historical landmarks and developments from the crusades to the French Revolution, students will revisit the medieval and early modern periods through an original and historiographically neglected perspective. They will be free to give and their seminar presentation and write their essay on a topic or case study of their choice based on an original selection of primary sources.

In addition to the basic requirements for this course, ResMa students will work from a transnational perspective and integrate different genres of primary source materials (chronicles, pamphlets, correspondences, newspapers, ego documents…) in their research.

An entry test in the form of a primary source analysis is required for this course. Details will be provided via Brightspace at the beginning of the semester.

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 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 specialisation

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the specialisation or subtrack as well as of the historiography of the specialisation Europe 1000-1800, with a particular focus on the broader processes of political, social and cultural identity formation between about 1000-1800; awareness of problems of periodisation and impact of ‘national’ historiographical traditions on the field.
  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation Europe 1000-1800, with a particular focus on the ability to analyse and evaluate primary sources from the period, if necessary with the aid of modern translations; ability to make use of relevant methods of quantitative and qualitative analysis to interpret sources in their textual and historical context.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  1. Will acquire a general overview of historiography on medieval and early modern religion, and familiarize themselves with the latest scholarship on the subject;
  2. Will develop the ability to conduct original research based on primary source material;
  3. Will learn how to approach historical controversies and to analyse polemical material;
  4. (ResMA only): – ResMA students will learn to work with different genres of primary sources efficiently;
  5. Will learn the problematics and methodologies of conducting research from a transnational perspective;
  6. The originality of their research will play a more important part in their final assessment.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, the student 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, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6.500-7.500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-14 (ResMA also: 15-18)

  • Literature review + research proposal
    measured learning objectives: 1-3, 11-12, 17-18 (ResMA also: 16)

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-7, 11-15, 17-18 (ResMA also: 16)


  • Written paper: 60%

  • Literature review + research proposal: 20%

  • Oral presentation: 10%

  • Participation: 10%

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

  • L. Laborie and A. Hessayon (eds), Early Modern Prophecies in Transnational, National and Regional Contexts (Leiden: Brill, 2020), 3 vols.

  • Bernard McGinn, Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979)

A detailed bibliography will be included in the course syllabus.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.


Should a student not comply with the requirements or should their work be deemed insufficient, their participation in the course will be reconsidered.