nl en

History & Politics of Revolutions


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

None, but Birth of the Modern World is recommended.


The 19th and 20th centuries were a revolutionary age, not only because of industrial development and the rise and fall of global empires, but also because political revolutions themselves proved to be history’s locomotives. Analyzing why revolutions occur, how to start them, how to end them, and sometimes how to prevent them became a chief pursuit of thinkers like Edmund Burke, Karl Marx, and Hannah Arendt. But their theories of revolution did not always coincide with revolutionary practice. This gap between theory and practice is our general theme as we survey histories of the French and Haitian Revolutions, the European Revolutions of 1848, the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the cultural revolutions of 1968, and finally the series of “velvet revolutions” starting in 1989 that brought about the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Other themes include the formation of revolutionary subjects (e.g., the working class, oppressed nationalities, dissident intellectuals), the choice of revolutionary tactics (e.g., conspiracy, propaganda, violence, vanguard parties), and the extent of revolutionary internationalism. Together we will read a graphic biography of the Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, look at avant-garde artwork, and listen to militant songs that inspired modern revolutionaries across generations.

Course Objectives

  • Gain a general historical knowledge of political revolutions in and around Europe since 1789.

  • Form opinions about and seriously discuss theories of revolutions, with regard to when revolutions occur, why they succeed or fail, and how they end.

  • Recognize ways in which the modern revolutionary tradition persists in contemporary politics, culture, and society around the world.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This is a seminar. Students must attend every class prepared to discuss the assigned reading. Students who are unable to attend are required to notify the instructor beforehand. The instructor will determine whether the missed class may be compensated by an additional assignment.

In class discussion, students should allow space for their fellow students to contribute as well. If students are unable or reluctant to speak in front of class, then as an alternative they should visit the instructor’s office hours on a regular basis.

Assessment Method

  • 30% participation in class discussions

  • 30% midterm essay (600–800 words)

  • 40% final essay (1250–1500 words)

Students must complete all components in order to pass the course. The maximum penalty for late submission is 5% off the essay grade per day late. Extensions will be hard to obtain, so students who require one should ask the instructor well in advance of the due date.

Reading list

  • Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (Penguin Classics, 2006)

  • Kate Evans, Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg (Verso, 2015)

  • Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of ’89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, and Prague (Vintage, 1993; or new edition by Atlantic, 2019)

As an alternative to hardcopies, these books are available for purchase in digital editions via Kobo and Kindle. The Arendt and Garton Ash books are also available for free temporary access via the HathiTrust Digital Library and the Internet Archive. The remainder of the assigned readings will be available as PDFs on Brightspace.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


For questions about the content of the course, please contact the instructor at


Academic Integrity
Neither the university nor the instructor tolerates plagiarism, but cases of it can be unintentional. Inform yourself on how to properly cite other people’s words and ideas by reading the university’s code of conduct on plagiarism and academic integrity.