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Political Eloquence


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.
Passive knowledge of the Dutch language is required.


In the summer of 2014 Dutch Foreign minister Frans Timmermans addressed the general assembly of the United Nations on the issue of flight MH17, the passenger aircraft that was shot down in Ukrainian airspace. The way Timmermans voiced his anger and grief in a classic speech was admired in the Netherlands and around the world. It showed the importance of eloquence in representative politics.

In this class we will research the use and meaning of political eloquence by concentrating on the case of the Netherlands. What were the highlights of eloquence, and what have become the classic speeches since the emergence of the modern Dutch state in the beginning of the 19th century? Why has political eloquence not often been appreciated very much in the Netherlands, as compared to countries such as Britain, France and the United States? Why was the eloquence of Protestant clergymen admired, at least in the 19th century, whereas political rhetoric was often distrusted or not taken seriously? We will study classic speeches and their reception, we will trace the development and changes of eloquence over the last two centuries, the debates about the value and the danger of political rhetoric and the recent discussions about whether politicians should be trained as speakers or should, instead, rely on their ‘authentic’ qualities.

There will be opportunities for comparisons with political eloquence in other countries, and, in particular, for the study of reception of foreign eloquence in the Netherlands. Why have the Dutch, for instance, highly appreciated eloquence of American Presidents – ‘ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’ – but have they expected their own prime ministers to speak soberly and without pathos?

In order to deepen our understanding of how political rhetoric works, we will work together closely with a parallel class of students of Dutch rhetoric, who will join us. This will result in essays written in common by historians, or by an historian and a linguist. This will also allow us to help produce a ‘canon’ of Dutch political eloquence – a topical subject Dutch television has also been interested in. The main object of this class will be to study Dutch political eloquence, and to that end knowledge and understanding of Dutch is imperative. However, we will try to accommodate foreign students with an interest in eloquence and rhetoric.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;
  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  4. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  5. 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;
  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
  7. 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;
  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
  9. 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;
  10. (ResMA only): The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    • in the specialisation Political Culture and National Identities: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;
    • in the subspecialisation Political Debate also: political debates and debating styles in the Netherlands and abroad, both from a historical and a current perspective.
  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:
    • in the specialisation Political Culture and National Identities: 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;
    • in the subspecialisation Political Debate also: historical and interdisciplinary analysis of political argumentation and rhetoric.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  1. Has acquired knowledge of the development of political eloquence in the Netherlands in an international perspective;
  2. Has shown that she/he is able to analyse political speeches and their context;
  3. Is able to assess and discuss the value and importance of political eloquence;
  4. Has contributed to the common discussion in class about the research theme;
  5. ResMA only: Has shown the ability to analyse political eloquence from a multidisciplinary perspective.


The timetable is available on the MA History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Seminar attendance (including excursion to The Hague): 30 hours

  • Compulsory literature for seminars: 50 hours

  • Small assignments: 40 hours

  • Writing a paper (including reading, research, first and second version): 160 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography; including presentation of the first version in class)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-15 (ResMA also: 9, 17)

  • Assignment 1&2 (to be executed in small groups: selection of relevant speeches, presentation of preliminary results in class)
    Measured learning objectives: 3-4, 13-14, 16

  • Participation (contribution to common discussion)
    Measured learning objectives: 16


Written paper (including presentation first version in class): 70%
Assignment 1 & 2: 20%
Participation: 10%

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.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Communication between instructors and students

  • Posting papers

Reading list

  • To be announced.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof. dr. Henk te Velde