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Sources in Intellectual History: Intellectuals and the State in Contemporary Culture Wars


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 contemporary history course, students will analyze clashes between intellectuals and the state across a number of democratic and semi-democratic contexts. We will focus particularly on political efforts to censor scholars and other intellectual laborers who threaten official narratives about the state’s historic relationship to marginalized communities. Topics on the syllabus include the Polish government’s suppression of research into the Holocaust; the Macron administration’s denunciation of “Islamo-leftism” in France among scholars of postcolonialism; Germany’s “Mbembe affair,” which has generated enormous controversy over comparisons between the Holocaust and other forms of racist mass violence; and legal prohibitions against critical race theory that are proliferating across the United States.
Students will track how ideas in debates at the national level ultimately circulate trans-nationally. In particular, the class will analyze how political officials describe sources of “intellectual contagion” that they accuse of migrating across the Atlantic or through the felled Iron Curtain. We will also highlight the potentials and limits of trans-national solidarity when intellectuals become symbolic targets in broader state campaigns aimed at erasing the histories of minoritized groups. Students will develop nuanced analyses of controversial ideas, with attention not just to what targeted thinkers “really mean” but also to how their ideas are strategically distorted in the political arena.
Ultimately, students will learn how to locate, close read, and contextualize various primary sources at the intersection of public history and intellectual history.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
  2. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  3. 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;
  4. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
  5. 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;
  6. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
  7. 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;
  8. (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 in the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present on political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;
  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus in the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present on 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 Workshop

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to close read, compare, and provide nuanced context for controversial documents at the intersection of intellectual history and public history;
  2. An understanding of methods relevant to writing a “history of the present;”
  3. The ability to develop comparative, trans-national historical questions of manageable scope.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

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, he is required to 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


  • Written paper (ca. 2.500-3000 words, based on research in primary sources)
    measured learning objectives: 1-7, 8-13

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 4-6, 9-11

  • Active class participation
    measured learning objectives: 2, 6, 7, 9-12


  • Written paper: 70%

  • Oral presentation: 10%

  • Class Discussion: 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.


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

The readings will be available on Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment 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.


This course will be conducted in English. Students are welcome and encouraged to develop projects that focus on primary sources in other languages.