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Democracy in Action: Radical Cultures and Protest Movements in Modern America


Admission requirements

History students should have successfully completed their propaedeutic exam and both second-year BA-seminars, one of which in General History. By choosing this seminar, students also choose General History as their BA graduation specialisation.


Throughout its history, the United States has surfed recurrent waves of intense social activism. Studying the history of US protest cultures and movements is crucial to understanding how US democracy has been challenged and expanded, how radical ideas have moved into the mainstream, and how citizenship has been constantly mediated and renegotiated. This course takes the students through the actions, struggles, and campaigns of a plethora of different social organizations that, from the late nineteenth century onward, have pushed for broader inclusion, empowerment, enfranchisement and reform in the United States. Students will learn about populists and suffragists, labor and religious organizations, peace and civil rights groups, student and LGBTQ movements, environmental and health care protests.

The course consists of both seminar discussions and in-class guided research assignments. During the seminars, students will learn about and examine a wide range of US protest movements from the Gilded Age to contemporary social media activism. Through a series of in-class assignments and under the guidance of the instructor, students will have an opportunity to gain first-hand experience of archival research. They will be asked to search for primary sources through ad-hoc digital databases, to contextualize and problematize relevant documents, and to critically assess and discuss their historical significance.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student can:

  • 1) devise and conduct research of limited scope, including:
    a. identifying relevant literature and select and order them according to a defined principle;
    b. organising and using relatively large amounts of information;
    c. an analysis of a scholarly debate;
    d. placing the research within the context of a scholarly debate.

  • 2) write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the first year Themacolleges, including;
    a. using a realistic schedule of work;
    b. formulating a research question and subquestions;
    c. formulating a well-argued conclusion;
    d. giving and receiving feedback;
    e. responding to instructions of the lecturer.

  • 3) reflect on the primary sources on which the literature is based;

  • 4) select and use primary sources for their own research;

  • 5) analyse sources, place and interpret them in a historical context;

  • 6) participate in class discussions.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  • 7) The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically; in the specialisation General History: of the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions; in the track American History: of American exceptionalism; the US as a multicultural society and the consequences of that for historiography; the intellectual interaction between the US and Europe.

  • 8) Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically; -in the specialisation General History: of the study of primary sources and the context specificity of nationally defined histories; in the track American History: of exceptionalism; analysis of historiografical and intellectual debates.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

The student:

  • 9) acquires the analytical tools to study social movements as independent historical subjects;

  • 10) assesses the cultural and political impact that social movements have had on US history;

  • 11) is confronted with the historical relevance of radical ideologies through the use of primary sources;

  • 12) delves deeper into the interconnections between social, cultural, and political history.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If you are not able to attend, you are 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 you do not comply with the aforementioned requirements, you will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6.000-7.000 words, based on problem-oriented research using primary sources, excluding front page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-5, 12

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-5, 6-7; 9-11

  • Participation
    measured learning objectives: 6-8

  • Research Assignment: In-class research on a given topic/theme; in-class presentation and discussion of the research findings
    measured learning objectives: 4-6; 11-12


  • Written paper: 60%

  • Oral presentation: 10%

  • Participation: 10%

  • Research Assignment: 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.


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.

Inspection and feedback

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

Reading list

  • Michael Kazin, American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (New York: Vintage, 2011)

  • Howard Brick, Christopher Phelps, Radicals in America: The U.S. Left since the Second World War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Additional literature, including the database list for research assignments, is to be announced in class and/or on Brightspace.


Registration takes place via a form that is sent to all History students on the day registrations open.


  • 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.


This course is cross-listed between the BA History and the minor and premaster American Studies.