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Minds Matter: American Public Intellectuals and their Ideas


Admission requirements

History students should have successfully completed their propaedeutic exam and both second-year BA-seminars, one of which in Algemene Geschiedenis.


This course offers students an overview of American intellectual history by focusing on a few of its major representatives. Students will become familiar with important cultural and intellectual traditions in American history such as Puritanism, American Transcendentalism and Pragmatism. More specifically, the course aims to familiarize students with the debate about the role of intellectuals in society and the status of public intellectuals. Reading essays and books written by figures ranging from Jonathan Edwards to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ta-Nehisi Coates students will explore the work of American thinkers who addressed large audiences to discuss important public issues and added their voices to debates about citizenship, racism, and other social and political problems.

In this course students will read primary-source materials written by major representatives of American intellectual history; the essay that students will have to write will also be based on primary source materials.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student can:

  • 1) devise and conduct research of limited scope, including:
    a. identifying relevant literature and select and order them according to a defined principle;
    b. organising and using relatively large amounts of information;
    c. an analysis of a scholarly debate;
    d. placing the research within the context of a scholarly debate.

  • 2) write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the first year Themacolleges, including;
    a. using a realistic schedule of work;
    b. formulating a research question and subquestions;
    c. formulating a well-argued conclusion;
    d. giving and receiving feedback;
    e. responding to instructions of the lecturer.

  • 3) reflect on the primary sources on which the literature is based;

  • 4) select and use primary sources for their own research;

  • 5) analyse sources, place and interpret them in a historical context;

  • 6) participate in class discussions.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  • 7) The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically;
    -in the track American History: of American exceptionalism; the US as a multicultural society and the consequences of that for historiography; the intellectual interaction between the US and Europe;

  • 8) Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically;
    -in the specialisation General History: of the study of primary sources and the context specificity of nationally defined histories;
    -in the track American History: of exceptionalism; analysis of historiografical and intellectual debates;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

The student

  • 9) Knowledge of major cultural and intellectual traditions and movements in American history

  • 10) Knowledge of key figures in these movements and traditions

  • 11) Knowledge of the debate about the status of public intellectuals

  • 12) Knowledge of the US as a multicultural society and the consequences of that for historiography; knowledge of the intellectual interaction between the US and Europe


The timetable is available on the BA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher 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 teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course load

Total course load: 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 uur.

  • attending classes Seminar sessions: 14 × 2 = 28 hours

  • preparation: Required reading: 130 hours

  • assignments : Paper proposal: 2 hours

  • Presentation: 5 hours

  • Take-home assignment: 20 hour

  • writing paper (including studying literature): 95 hours

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6000-7000 words, based on problem-oriented research using primary sources, excluding front page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 2-5, 7-12

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-5

  • Participation
    measured learning objectives: 6

  • Assignment 1: take-home assignment
    measured learning objectives: 7-12

  • Assignment 2: paper proposal
    measured learning objectives: 1-2


  • Written paper: 50%

  • Oral presentation: 15%

  • Particiation: 15%

  • Assignment 1: 15%

  • Assignment 2: 5%

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 Blackboard.


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Blackboard.

Exam Review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • publication course outline

  • communication of deadlines

  • discussion board

  • some of the reading materials

Reading list

The booktitles and / or syllabi to be used in the course and how this literature should be studied beforehand.
Required Reading:

  • Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746; selection)

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance” (1841)

  • W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

  • John Dewey, The Public and its Problems (1927)

  • Hannah Arendt, “Philosophy and Politics” (1954)

  • bell hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (1990)

  • Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual (1994)

  • Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country (1998)

  • Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (2004)

  • Martha Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010)

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015)


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. E.F. van de Bilt