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Current Debates in Medieval and Early Modern History II


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


In this course we will be examining current debates in the history of medieval and early modern Europe.
The aim of the literature seminars is both to acquaint you with historiographical developments and to let you 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.

Part I
Conflict Management in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, 1100-1800

From the late Middle Ages, maritime conflict has developed hand in hand with international trade. Over time, specific institutions were established to address disputes arising from violence or mishap at sea and in coastal areas. Conflict resolution at sea has mostly been studied through the lens of the history of diplomacy and international law. Of late the emphasis has shifted to the process of conflict resolution itself. There is a detailed interest in the different actors and institutions involved alongside in-depth case studies. Conflict management has a wider meaning than conflict resolution, as the concept includes alternative modes of dealing with conflicts that do not necessarily involve resolving them. Beyond classical issues such as naval warfare, piracy and privateering, medievalists and historians exploring the worlds of the early modern Mediterranean and Atlantic have increasingly devoted attention to processes of conflict settlement and conflict avoidance, while also looking into the vast diversity of formal judicial procedures and informal or private paths of settlements.
How did victims of maritime conflicts claim compensation or reparation? How and to what extent did they get support from authorities and polities? How did individual actors and public institutions negotiate disputes which transcended jurisdictional boundaries (for example those involving reprisal and piracy)? What strategies, arrangements and agreements were resorted in order to achieve resolution of those conflicts, and with what effectiveness?
In the seminar we will retrace the historiographical debate on conflict resolution. In the first session, one monograph (Heeboll-Holm), parts of two books (North and Gelderblom) will be discussed. In the second session, there will be a group discussion of the outlines of the modern historiographical debate on institutions and conflict resolution on the basis of a selection of articles. The third session will have short presentations by students based on the literature discussed in the course that they will use and work up into a review essay afterwards. Research MA students will read and use additional literature.

Part II
Cross-cultural diplomacy in the Mediterranean World, 1600-1800

The study of early modern diplomacy has long been one of the most conservative subdisciplines in the field of history. During the last three decades, however, diplomatic history has undergone profound changes. These changes were triggered by developments in other disciplines and happened under the influence of the cultural turn. These gave rise to a range of innovations in diplomatic history, leading historians to focus on the diplomatic process and its cultural dimensions rather than on the results of diplomatic activity. Diplomatic historians now acknowledge that in early modern times international relations were no monopoly of the state or the sovereign and that they made use of the services of independent interest groups or individuals. Groundbreaking cross-cultural studies on trade history have helped diplomatic historians to integrate relations of European powers with non-European counterparts into their field of interest and to recognize that diplomacy is not an exclusive European affair. Diplomats and independent interest groups and individuals smoothed the way for exchange and negotiations across significant cultural, religious and linguistic divides. Recently scholars have payed a growing attention to European formal and informal political contacts with the Ottoman world. This seminar will study the recent results in the field of cross-cultural diplomatic interactions of Europeans with non-European counterparts in the Mediterranean World.

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

  • 6) 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 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.

  • 7) (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:
Part I

  • 8) Will have a thorough understanding of the modern historiographical debate on the conflict management in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, 1000-1800.

  • 9) Will be able to develop her/his own critical view of a specific aspect of this debate through an oral presentation and a written paper, based on the reading of one or two (ResMA only) recent monographs and a selection of articles.

Part II

The student:

  • 10) understands the complexity of the current debate on the rise of early modern diplomacy and has an insight into the interaction between states, cities and private intermediaries during this period

  • 11) has insight in recent debates on the cross-cultural interaction in medieval and early modern history.


The timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load: 280 hours

Part I and II,

  • Seminars (2 hours per week during 6 weeks), 12 hours.

  • Study of compulsory reading and associated assignments, 100 hours.

  • Reading additional literature, associated class presentation and writing of 2 essays/review articles, 168 hours.

Assessment method


  • Essay

  • Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-11, for Res MA students also 7

  • Assignments

  • Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-11

  • Presentations and participation, for ResMA students also 5

  • Measured learning objectives: 2, 4-6, 8-11


Essays: 70%
Assignment, participation and presentations: 30%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficent.


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

Exam review

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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Announcements

  • Course information

  • Course documents

  • Assignments

Reading list

For part I

  • Thomas Heeboll-Holm, Ports, Piracy and Maritime War. Piracy in the English Channel and the Atlantic, c. 1280-c. 1330 (Leiden en Boston 2013) (dat als e-boek in de UBL beschikbaar is).

  • D. North, Institutions, Instittutional Change and Economy Performance (Cambridge 1990) 107-140.

  • O. Gelderblom, Cities of Commerce. The Institutional Foundations pf International Trade in the Low Countries 1250-1650 (Princeton and Oxford 2013) 102-140.

  • Comparative Legal History 5.1 (2017) Special Issue: Maritime Conflict Management, Diplomacy and International Law, 1100-1800 (Louis Sicking ed.): the introduction and the following five articles.

  • Continuity and Change 31.1 (2017) Special Issue on Commercial Quarrels.

For part II

  • J. Black, A history of diplomacy (Londen 2010)

  • Journal of Early Modern History 19, 2-3 (2015) Cross-Confessional Diplomacy and Diplomatic Intermediaries in the Early Modern Mediterranean.

  • Additional reading 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. L.H.J.Sicking Dr. M.A. Ebben