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Energy Transitions in Past & Future


Admission requirements

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


Energy has been a constant in global history. Societal development and economic growth are often associated with changes in sources of energy (such as horses, firewood, coal, and oil). The depletion of fossil fuel and the damaging role played by current energy usage demand, yet again, a revolution towards new energy sources as a means for societal well-being and sustainable economic growth. Such a transition is technological, but can also be studied from an economic perspective (because of the costs involved and necessary investments), a political perspective (how do we distribute these costs? How can we influence this process?), and a social perspective (which groups are inclined to postpone the transition? Who is eager to accelerate the changes?). In this course we will observe earlier energy transitions and technological innovations. We will analyse disruptive effects and pay attention to the role of conservative elites. We also discuss the degrowth debate that attempts to define different priorities in the economic policy agenda, and the recent history of climate agreements.

There will be an entry test. Please read: John Mikler and Neil E. Harrison, ‘Varieties of Capitalism and Technological Innovation for Climate Change Mitigation’, New Political Economy 17:2 (2012) 179-208.

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

The student has acquired:

  • 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 Cities, Migration and Global Interdependence: the manner in which migrations (of people, goods and ideas) between and within states have led to shifts (in cohesion, ethnic composition, policies, imaging, culture, and power relations) in the period 1600-2000, with a focus on (urban) networks (within and across borders);
    -in the subspecialisation Economic History also: the origin and outcomes of the Great Divergence, developments in political economy since ca 1600, increasing global interdependence throughout the centuries, the development of global governance in the twentieth century, as well as the most important debates in recent Economic History.

  • 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 Cities, Migration and Global Interdependence: the interdisciplinary approach (application of theories and methods from social sciences), the comparative perspective (diachronic and synchronic) and working with a large variety of primary sources;
    -in the subspecialisation Economic History also: the application of economic concepts, research methods or models; insight into the argumentation of current debates.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) obtains insight into the effects of government policy, social action, and forms of non-market coordination in the private sector.

  • 14) explores the recent academic literature and available statistical sources on the theme.

  • 15) (ResMA only) ResMA students are expected to do more background reading and formulate research questions of a higher higher complexity or that are inspired by a more theoretically-based curiosity about methods and concepts. Additional learning objectives apply to Research Master students as follows: (a) The ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources (b) The ability to identify new approaches within existing academic debates (c) Knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of the specialization.


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: 4 hours

  • Lectures: 24 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 60 hours

  • Two presentations: 16 hours

  • Paper: 176 hours

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6500-7500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    The final paper should demonstrate the following skills:

  • Ability to independently identify and select literature

  • Ability to give a clear written report on the research results in English or Dutch

  • Ability to engage with constructive academic feedback.
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 12-15 (ResMa: 16)

  • Entry test
    Measured learning objectives: 13-14

  • Two oral presentations
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7, 13, 15

  • Participation in discussions & extra assignment
    Measured learning objectives: 3, 4, 8 (ResMA: 10)


  • Written paper: 75 %

  • Oral presentations: 15 %

  • Class participation & extra assignment: 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.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Blackboard.


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. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • publication course outline

  • communication of deadlines

Reading list

Will be announced later.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. Jeroen Touwen