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Scholarly Virtues and Vices: Writing the History of the Humanities (1850-2000)


Admission requirements

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


Until recently, the history of the humanities was divided along disciplinary lines. Art historians wrote the history of art history, musicologists traced the history of musicology, and historians restricted themselves to the history of historiography. Increasingly, however, attempts are made to transcend these disciplinary categories and to explore the possibility of a history of the humanities, focused on patterns of resemblance, contact, or transfer between art history, musicology, history, philology, and theology.

This course provides an introduction to this emerging field called history of the humanities and explores in some depth the advantages and disadvantages of writing the history of the humanities through the prism of scholarly virtues and vices. How did virtues like impartiality and objectivity travel across the humanities? To what extent were humanities scholars united in condemning dogmatism and uncritical reading? And why did scholars across the humanities struggle with the virtues and vices of historical criticism?

The first half of the course is devoted to discussion of secondary literature. In the second half, students will familiarize themselves with different types of primary source material, prepare a research paper of their own, and present their research to each other.

By way of entry test, all students write a 1,000 word review of Rens Bod’s A New History of the Humanities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), since recently available in an affordable paperback edition. As this review is due in week 2, the book is best read in advance, prior to the start of the course.

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

  • 11) 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 Politics, Culture and National Identities: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;

  • 12) 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 Politics, 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

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) Has become thoroughly familiar with the emerging field called history of the humanities;

  • 14) Has acquired thorough knowledge of what scholarly virtues and vices are;

  • 15) Has acquired the ability to examine a particular case-study through the prism of virtues and/or vices;

  • 16) (ResMA only): Has acquired the ability to use a more complex corpus of sources in comparison to regular MA students; and/or the ability to set up and carry out original research which raises new questions, pioneers new approaches and/or and points to new directions for future research.


The timetable is available on the MA 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 hours

  • Entry test: 24

  • Lectures: 24

  • Practical work: 6

  • Study of compulsory literature: 100

  • Assignment(s): 126

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6500-7500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-15 (ResMA also: 9 and 16)

  • Entry test
    measured learning objectives: 13 (ResMA also: 16)

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-7, 14-15 (ResMA also: 16)

  • Participation (classroom, Blackboard):
    measured learning objectives: 9 (ResMA also: 10)


  • Written paper: 60 %

  • Entry test: 15 %

  • Oral presentation: 15%

  • Participation (classroom, Blackboard): 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 sufficent.


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

Inspection and feedback

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:

  • Communication

  • Discussion

Reading list

  • Rens Bod, A New History of the Humanities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) (paperback edition, 2015) – to be read in advance, prior to the start of the course.

  • All additional literature (journal articles, primary source texts) is electronically accessible through Leiden University Library or will be made available through Blackboard.


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. H.J. Paul