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From Empires to Nation States: Ethnic Minorities in Modern Europe


Admission requirements



Ethnicity or ethnic groups are difficult to grasp with definitions, since the belonging to an ethnicity presupposes clearly identifiable common features such as language, culture, traditions, descent, and sometimes religion. While today academics researching societies seem to have a rather clear idea of what ethnic groups or ethnic minorities are composed of, the concept in itself did not exist in the 19th century. Ethnicity as a distinctive feature of peoples only came into existence with the emergence of the nation state and even more so with the end of empires during the first half of the 20th century. The concepts circulating at the time were peoples, nationalities, and races with an interchangeable use of the terms varying geographically and from decade to decade.
Still, also before the rise of the nation state, ethnic groups existed and have been reported on by historians, chroniclers, and government officials. What was new in the 19th century was the demarcation of certain ethnicities as the “legal entities” of nation states attributing them very distinctive languages, histories, traditions, and cultures. These definitions of “nationals” served as instruments of unification, identification, and leveling. At the same time the rise of “nationals” created the other groups, those we would today identify as ethnic groups or ethnicities distinct form the usually larger national ethnicity. What the forming of dominant national groups throughout the 19th century hides, is the fact that these groups were spattered over the empires in central and eastern Europe: Italians, French, Germans did not live as homogenous groups within clearly recognizable territories. On the contrary, many of the groups would not even identify as being of the same ethnicity.
Today Europe hosts a variety of ethnic minorities living in nation states (sometimes crossing national borders) – with many different ways of living within the larger national groups. The way to Basque self-confidence as a minority within Spain, however, diverges greatly from the protected minority status of the German speaking minority in South Tyrol in northern Italy. The hard-won peace between Catholics and protestants in Northern Ireland came into being after decades of terrorism directed against the central national institutions especially in England and similar processes can be observed in Corsica, where continuous bombings defined the relationship of the Corsicans with France. Totally different histories have to be analyzed when dealing with Jews, Roma and Sinti, the Yenish peoples, or also religious minorities. Minorities in Europe have very specific histories oftentimes distinct from national histories and many of them found levels of arrangements within the national communities. The European Union, on the other hand, has been playing a very specific role in defining the relationship between nationalities but also between peoples ever since the 1980s – the slogan used in this context is the “Europe of Regions”.
To trace the history of ethnicity and ethnic groups from the 19th century until today in Europe is at the heart of the proposed lecture. Next to digging deeper into the various histories of individual minorities the lecture shall also elaborate on the theories of ethnicity and on transnational and transcultural trends in recent studies.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student can:

  1. organise and use relatively large amounts of information
  2. reflect critically on knowledge and understanding as presented in academic literature

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  1. The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically; in the specialisation General History the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific lecture course

The student:

  1. acquires knowledge about the changing history of the concept of minorities and its meaning since the 19th century in Europe;
  2. learns to critically reflect on the categories of “ethnicity” and “minority” as well as their use and abuse in different national contexts;
  3. gains insight into the public and political debates on societal participation, inclusion and exclusion mechanisms over time in different parts of Europe.


The timetables are avalable through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • self-study

Assessment method


  • Midterm examination: written exam with closed questions and short open questions
    measured learning objectives: 1, 3, 4

  • Final examination: written exam with short open questions and essay questions
    measured learning objectives: 1-6


  • Midterm examination: 30 %

  • Final examination: 70 %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


The resit exam will take place in one single resit, at which both subtests are offered. For this resit three hours will be reserved, so that students will be able to retake both subtests, if necessary.

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

Will be communicated on Brightspace.


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.

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Registration Studeren à la carte.
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  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

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