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Do Elections Make Democracies?


Admission requirements

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


Elections are the most important instrument for modern democracies. It is impossible to imagine how Abraham Lincoln’s famous promise of a government of the people, by the people and for the people could be implemented without universal voting rights. Moreover, elections are a global phenomenon: no country today functions without them. Herein lies an interesting conundrum: after taking a closer look, we come to the realization that elections also determine governments in non-democratic regimes. Why is it then that we think of elections as the most important component of democratic governance? In a time when an increasing number of people decide to abstain from voting, or elect populists, can we still argue that Election Day is the peak of democracy?

In this research seminar, we use the contested history of elections to problematize its relationship with democracy. Not taking for granted that elections inevitably serve democratic decision-making processes, we use Europe’s diverse history to investigate the contested history of elections from the first suffrage rights extension to the discussions about populism today. This perspective is encouraged by a critical discussion of the literature where we will contrast simplified accounts of elections with “new” political history. We investigate what contemporaries thought about elections, and why they decided to extend suffrage rights to new groups. New research suggests that, initially, elections were used to consolidate the old, undemocratic order. In the nineteenth century, when elections were increasingly associated with popular politics, it remained an instrument of exclusion. In the early twentieth century, elections became increasingly linked with democratic governments, also in connection with its extension to women. We also investigate why elections formed an essential feature of post-war non-democratic regimes, like Franco’s Spain.

The course intends to contribute to current debates about populisms. The nineteenth-century distrust of ordinary people’s participation in government is, to some extent, reflected in today’s discussion about populism. Hence, the seminar also includes discussion of political science and political theory literature. This is also a way to encourage students to critically reflect on the role of historians in these current debates.
To start the course students will have to hand in a take-home exam (questions can be found on the blackboard site of the course, hand in during first class).

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;

    1. 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 specialization

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

    1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of 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 acquired basic knowledge and understanding of the history of elections in Europe since the early 19th century;

  • 14) ) Has acquired a thorough understanding of the concept of elections, its contestes historical nature, and its relationship to democracy;

  • 15) Has acquired in depth knowledge of one particular case study;

  • 16) 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: 10 hours

  • Lectures: 30 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 40 hours

  • Assignment(s): 40 hours

  • Paper: 160 hours

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, 12-15 (ResMA also: 9 and 16)

  • Entry test
    measured learning objectives: 13-14

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-7, 15

  • Participation in class and online
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 8, 11-14


  • Written paper: 70 %

  • Oral presentation: 10%

  • Entry test:10 %

  • Participation in class and online (including assignments): 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 syllabus 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 syllabus

  • communication of deadlines

  • submission of assignments

Reading list

Week 1 - 12th Sept 2019: Introducing Elections
Course Program: Introduction of course theme, course requirements (schedule, assignment and grading), discussion of assigned literature, brainstorm possible research topics. Literature to be read: The literature on elections and democracy is extensive. Important theoretical concepts that often appears are democracy and representation. Before we start studying specific historical case studies, this week we will begin our literature studies by reading some general texts to gain a better theoretical understanding of the historical meaning of the term and its relationship to democracy.

  • election, n., OED Online. Oxford University Press. (make sure to read the full entry)

  • democracy, n., OED Online. Oxford University Press. (make sure to read the full entry)

  • Eduardo Posada Carbó, “Elections before Democracy: Some Considerations on Electoral History from a Comparative Perspective,” in Elections before Democracy: The History of Elections in Europe and Latin America, ed. Eduardo Posada Carbó, Institute of Latin American Studies Series (London: Macmillan Press, 1996), 1–15.

  • Bernard Manin, Adam Przeworski, and Susan C. Stokes, “Elections and Representation,” in Democracy, Accountability, and Representation, ed. Adam Przeworski, Susan C. Stokes, and Bernard Manin, Cambridge Studies in the Theory of Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 29–54.

  • John Dunn, Setting the People Free: The Story of Democracy (Atlantic, 2005), 149–88.

  • Assignment (entry test): Write an essay in English of 1500 words in which you answer the following questions (ca. 500 words for each component): 1) What have you learned from these texts about the theory and the history of elections, their relationship to democracy and representation? 2) What questions, topics and approaches are discussed by the different authors? Which ones do you find most appealing to work on yourself for this class? You can add questions, topics and approaches that are not discussed by these authors, but at least start from their work. 3) Think about historical periods and cases that could fit the theoretical considerations described by the author. What sort of primary sources would you need to carry out a research project like the one you described in part 2 of your essay?

Please note that this is not an exam in the classic sense with correct answers. I rather encourage you to start thinking about the topic of your essay. This is the creative part of your research phase. You are not (yet) bound by practicalities. If you have a “favorite” period, region or issue (e.g. interwar, Belgium, female suffrage) you can go from there. You might also use the themes suggested in the syllabus and see what looks appealing to you in connection to the overall course theme of the relationship between elections and democracy.

To prepare for the class discussion bring to class the respective literature; in the case of the OED entries it is ok to only copy and print what you think is relevant. Also print out one copy of your essay for your own reference in class discussions.

Week 2 – 19th Sept 2019: Early Suffrage Rights Extensions in the Nineteenth-Century
Course Program: Discussion of assigned literature, discussion of possible topics for research and research questions.
Literature to be read:

  • Robert Saunders, “The Politics of Reform and the Making of the Second Reform Act, 1848-1867,” The Historical Journal 50, no. 3 (2007): 571–91.

  • Margaret Lavinia Anderson, “Voter, Junker, Landrat, Priest: The Old Authorities and the New Franchise in Imperial Germany,” The American Historical Review 98, no. 5 (December 1, 1993): 1448–74.

  • M.-D. Demélas-Bohy, “The Hispanic Revolutions: The Adoption of Modern Forms of Representation in Spain and America (1808-1810),” in Elections before Democracy: The History of Elections in Europe and Latin America, ed. Eduardo Posada Carbó and F.-X. Guerra, Institute of Latin American Studies Series (London: Macmillan Press, 1996), 33–60.

  • Assignment (no. 1): Hand in a document in which you list two or three possible topics that you could research. For each possible topic, list three texts (academic articles, books or book chapters). Please upload your contribution to blackboard until 17th September (13:00 hrs).

Week 3 – 26th Sept 2019: The Struggle for Female Suffrage
Course Program: Discussion of assigned literature, discussion of definitive research topic and specifically primary source.
Literature to be read:

  • Blanca Rodríguez-Ruiz and Ruth Rubio - Marín, “Transition to Modernity, the Achievement of Female Suffrage, and Women´s Citizenship,” in The Struggle for Female Suffrage in Europe: Voting to Become Citizens, ed. Blanca Rodríguez-Ruiz and Ruth Rubio-Marín, International Studies in Sociology and Social Antropology (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 1–46.

  • Angelique Leszczawski-Schwerk, “Dynamics of Democratization and Nationalization: The Significance of Women’s Suffrage and Women’s Political Participation in Parliament in the Second Polish Republic,” Nationalities Papers 46, no. 5 (September 2018): 809–22.

  • (Ida Blom, “Structures and Agency: A Transnational Comparison of the Struggle for Women’s Suffrage in the Nordic Countries during the Long 19th Century,” Scandinavian Journal of History 37, no. 5 (December 2012): 600–620.)

  • Assignment (no. 2): Specify your definitive topic (one paragraph (c. half a page) and name two more texts (academic articles, books or book chapters) on your topic. Please upload your contribution to blackboard until 24th September (13:00 hrs).

**Week 4 – 3rd Oct 2019: NO CLASSES (Relief of Leiden)

**Week 5 – 10th Oct 2019: NO CLASSES (time for individual archive visits and/or introduction)

**Week 6 – 17th Oct: Archival Visit Atria Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s Study (tbc)

Week 7 - 24th Oct: A comparative and transnational Perspective on Suffrage Rights and Democracy
Course Program: Discussion of assigned literature, discussion of source material.
Literature to be read:

  • Hedwig Richter, “Transnational Reform and Democracy: Election Reforms in New York City and Berlin around 1900,” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 15, no. 2 (April 2016): 149–75.

  • Thomas Mergel, “Americanization, European Styles or National Codes? The Culture of Election Campaigning in Western Europe, 1945–1990,” East Central Europe 36, no. 2 (September 1, 2009): 254–80.

  • Assignment (no. 3): Upload a primary source (archive, autobiographies, newspaper database etc) that is relevant for your research topic on blackboard before the deadline. Prepare a short analysis of a source of another student that is assigned to you and bring the printed source and notes about your analysis to class.

Week 8: Non-Democratic Elections: Spain under Franco and East Germany
Course Program: Discussion of assigned literature.
Literature to be read:

  • Jan De Graaf, “European Socialism between Militant and Parliamentary Democracy: A Pan-European Debate, 1945-8,” European Review of History 26, no. 2 (April 2019): 331–52.

  • Carlos Domper Lasús, “Voting under Franco: The Elections of the Family Procuradores to the Cortes and the Limits to the Opening Up of Francoism,” in From Franco to Freedom: The Roots of the Transition to Democracy in Spain, 1962-1982, ed. Miguel Ángel Ruiz Carnicer, Sussex Studies in Spanish History (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2019), 70–100.
    For students who read German well, there is the possibility of reading an academic article that is also in some ways a primary source. If you read this one, you can skip the text on Spain: Dieter Roth, “Die Wahlen Zur Volkskammer in Der DDR. Der Versuch Einer Erklärung,” Politische Vierteljahresschrift 31, no. 3 (1990): 369–93.

  • Assignment (no. 4): Group a): Hand in a first version of your introduction: A paper of 900 words in which you 1.) present and delineate your topic in time and space; 2.) articulate a research question; 3.) discuss relevant academic texts (academic articles, books or book chapters) and embed your research in the historiography; 4.) explain how your primary sources are going to help you answer your question.
    Group b): Print out, read, write comments on each other’s outlines.

Week 9 – 31st October: Voting today: Populism, Referenda, Abstention
Course Program: Discussion of introduction and research. Discussion of assigned literature.
Literature to be read:

  • Margaret Canovan, “Trust the People! Populism and the Two Faces of Democracy,” Political Studies 47, no. 1 (March 1999): 2–16.

  • Colin Crouch, “10. Post-Democracy and Populism,” The Political Quarterly 90, no. S1 (2019): 124–37,

  • Assignment (no. 5): Group b): Hand in a first version of your introduction: A paper of 900 words in which you 1.) present and delineate your topic in time and space; 2.) articulate a research question; 3.) discuss relevant academic texts (academic articles, books or book chapters) and embed your research in the historiography; 4.) explain how your primary sources are going to help you answer your question.
    Group a): Print out, read, write comments on each other’s outlines.

Week 10 – 7th November Research – Analysis – Drafting – Presenting – Writing
Course Program: Research and writing clinic.
Literature to be read:

  • Dunleavy, Patrick, ‘Developing Your Text and Managing the Writing Process’, Authoring a PhD: How to Plan, Draft, Write, and Finish a Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 134-156. (BB)

  • Will Ratcliffe, The David Attenborough Style of Scientific Presentation,

  • Assignment: Reflect on your usual process of doing Research – Analysis – Drafting – Presenting – Writing. Where are your strengths and weaknesses? What would you like to learn how to do better? We are going to share best practices in class. Bring materials to class that show how you work: your notes, schemes of analysis, revised drafts etc.

Week 11 – 14th November: Presentations

  • Course Program: Presentations

  • Assignment: You will present your project in max. 12 minutes. Only use PPT/Prezi etc if they really add something to your presentation. The Tuesday before the presentation you have to upload the first draft of your paper on the Blackboard discussion board. All other students print out your paper and write useful comments on it. Your presentation will not simply repeat your paper, but will focus on the evidence you have found for your thesis statement, and on the challenges you face in finishing your paper. One of the other students will be specifically assigned to offer constructive critical feedback on your first draft and presentation.

Week 12 – 21st November: no classes (individual work on essay)

Week 13 - 28th November: Presentations

Week 14 – 5th December: Presentations

Week 15 – 12th December: Presentations and Final Remarks
Deadline essay: 16th December


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the [website] (

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. A. Heyer


Because an increasing amount of research indicates that student learning is hampered by technology use in the classroom, it is my ambition to make this class as technology-free as possible. This means no laptops and tablets in class. I expect you to bring a notebook and pen and take ample notes of instructions and class discussions. I also advise you to read all your assigned literature from paper, while taking notes on that paper – this means printing out your articles and bring them to class. Contact me if you have any questions about this before classes start.