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Current Debates in Medieval and Early Modern History I


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.


In this course we will examine two current debates in the history of medieval and early modern Europe. The aim of the literature seminars is both to let students get acquainted with historiographical developments and have them think about the production of historical knowledge itself. We will therefore not just be charting how historical debates develop, but crucially also investigate why they do so.

Debate I: Unearthly Powers: Immanentist and Transcendentalist Religion (Duindam), week 1-3
In this section of the literature seminar we will read Alan Strathern’s Unearthly Powers: Religious and Political Change in World History (Cambridge 2019). This ambitious comparative study defines two overlapping forms of religion (immanentism and transcendentalism) and examines their relationship with kingship. Strathern’s global view of religious and political change will form the basis of our discussions in the first week, and will provide a foundation for pursuing related themes in three fields: religion, kingship, and global history (optionally: your own theme, related to the book’s approach).

Debate II: Environment, epidemics, and societies in the medieval world, Buc, week 5-7.
Global swarming plus the recent Corona19 pandemic have invigorated the young field of environmental history; the costs to various human groups have led scholars to examine the historical relationship between climate change, epidemics, and culture plus the economy. These weeks will introduce students to the newer problematics.

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:

  1. 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 Europe 1000-1800: 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. (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:

  1. Will have a thorough knowledge of two current historiographical debates on cross-cultural interactions in medieval and early modern history: one related to the environment, the other to information management and power;.

  2. Understands the complexity of these debates in terms of the use of historical concepts; has the capacity to engage with current debates on the relationships between environment, diseases, and the economy as well as on early modern information management, and the social, political and cultural history of archival practices;

  3. Will be able to develop her/his own critical view of a specific aspect of these debates through oral presentations and written papers, based on the reading of several recent monographs and a selection of articles.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. Students who are unable to attend must notify the lecturer 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 lecturer 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


  • Final written paper(s)
    measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 7)

  • Active articipation in class:
    measured learning objectives: 2, 4-6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 5)

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10


  • Final written paper, debate I: 60 %

  • Final written paper, debate II: 60%

  • Active articipation in class, part I: 20% %

  • Active articipation in class, part II: 20%

  • Oral presentation, debate I: 20%

  • Oral presentation, debate II: 20%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written papers 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

Debate I:

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

  • Other mandatory readings will be provided by the instructors before the beginning of the course.

Debate II:

  • Bruce M. S. Campbell, The Great Transition. Climate, Disease and Society in the Late-Medieval World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016

  • Further readings will be announced later


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • 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.


Not applicable.