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Global Intellecual History before Modernity: Challenge or Madness?


Admission requirements

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


This seminar attempts to explore the possibilities and impossibilities of intellectual global history by taking stock of some of the most influential studies. The main questions to be discussed: do we really need global intellectual history? How to avoid Eurocentrism (or shouldn’t we?). Which approaches are the most promising at present: what do comparative, connective and entangled approaches offer to the global historian.

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 Colonial and Global History: how global (political, socio-economic, and cultural) connections interact with regional processes of identity and state formation; hence insight in cross-cultural processes (including the infrastructure of shipping and other modes of communication) that affect regions across the world such as imperialism, colonisation, islamisation, modernisation and globalisation (in particular during the period 1200-1940).

  • 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:

  • 8) Thorough knowlegde of the (in)commensurabilty of the worlds of early modern Eurasian rulers and the complexity and variety of primary sources that inform historians about this.


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

  • Lectures: 14 hrs

  • Preparation tutorials: 4 hrs

  • Study of compulsory literature: 220 hrs

  • Assignment(s): 2 hrs

  • Essay: 40 hrs

Assessment method


  • Essay
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4-6, 8

  • Assignment 1 (Discussion research question)
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4-6, 8

  • Assignment 2 (Discussion monograph)
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4-6, 8

  • Assignment 3 (Critical reflection on Assignment 2)
    measured learning objectives: 3


Written paper: 40 %
Assignment 1: 20 %
Assignment 2: 20 %
Assignment 3: 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 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:

  • practical communication

Reading list


Sebastian Conrad, What is Global History? (Princeton: Princeton Press; Princeton and Oxford, 2016).


Orientalism and beyond
Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978).
Urs App, The Cult of Emptiness: The Western Discovery of Buddhist Thought and the Invention of Oriental Philosophy (Wil: University Media, 2014).
Turning the tables:
Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (Rutgers University Press, 1987).
Christopher I. Beckwith, Warriors of the Cloisters: The Central Asian Origins of Science in the Medieval World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).
The spread of religions
Jan Assmann, Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Montheism (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998).
Shaheb Ahmad, What is Islam: The Importance of Being Islamic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017)
Hermetic tradition
Francis Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964).
Wouter Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Great Divergence
Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958; or. 1905)
Joel Mokyr, A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017).


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


J. Gommans