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Current Debates in Medieval and Early Modern History I


Admission requirements

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


In this course we will examine two current debates in the history of medieval and early modern Europe. The aim of the literature seminars is both to let students get acquainted with historiographical developments and have them think about the production of historical knowledge itself. We will therefore not just be charting how historical debates develop, but crucially also investigate why they do so.

Debate I: Religion and Political Change (Duindam, week 1-3)
In this section of the seminar we will read Alan Strathern’s recently published Unearthly Powers: Religious and Political Change in World History (Cambridge 2019). This ambitious comparative study defines two overlapping forms of religion (immanentism and transcendentalism) and examines their relationship with kingship. Strathern’s global view of religious and political change will form the basis of our discussions in the first week, and will provide a foundation for pursuing related themes in three fields: religion, kingship, and global history.

Debate II: The Italian Renaissance (Hoppenbrouwers and Napolitano week 5-7)
Did the (Italian) Renaissance really exist? Or, to rephrase the question in a more academic way, is the Italian Renaissance still considered to be a useful concept for historians (that is to say, general historians, historians of culture, literary historians, art historians), and, if so, which features are nowadays seen as defining for distinguishing Renaissance from Middle Ages? We have three weeks to find out and decide for ourselves.

In preparation for the first class students will read the introduction and the first four chapters of Guido Ruggiero, The Renaissance in Italy. A Social and Cultural History of the Rinascimento (2014). In the second class we shall look at the origins and history of the concept of Renaissance. In particular, attention will be paid to Jacob Burckhardt’s Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien (1860), and its Nachleben, on the basis of articles by Kenneth Gouwens (1998), John Jeffries Martin (2004), and Randolph Starn (2007).

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

The student has acquired:

  • 6) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Europe 1000-1800: broader processes of political, social and cultural identity formation between about 1000-1800; awareness of problems of periodisation and impact of ‘national’ historiographical traditions on the field.

  • 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

  • 8) Will have a thorough knowledge of two current historiographical debates on cross-cultural interactions in medieval and early modern history: one related to the Italian Renaissance, the other to religion and political change.

  • 9) Understands the complexity of these debates in terms of the use of historical concepts; has the capacity to engage with current debates on the possibilities and complications of global comparison as well as the connections between royalty and religion.

  • 10) Will be able to develop her/his own critical view of a specific aspect of these debates through oral presentations and written papers, based on the reading of several recent monographs and a selection of articles.


Visit MyTimetable.

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.

Assessment method


Part 1:

  • Participation in group discussion
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 4-6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 5)

  • Short presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10

  • Final essay
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 7)

Part 2:

  • Participation in group discussion
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 4-6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 5)

  • Short presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10

  • Essay
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 7)


Part 1:

  • Essays: 60%

  • Starting assignment, propositions, presentations and participation: 40%

Part 2:

  • Essays: 70%

  • Presentation & participation in discussion: 30%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written papers must always be sufficient.


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


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.

Reading list

Part I:

  • Alan Strathern, Unearthly Powers: Religious and Political Change in World History (Cambridge, 2019)

  • Other mandatory readings will be provided by the instructors before the beginning of the course.

Part II:

  • Guido Ruggiero, The Renaissance in Italy: A Social and Cultural History of the Rinascimento (Cambridge, 2014)


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof. dr. P.C.M. Hoppenbrouwers Dr. mr. D.P.H. Napolitano Prof. dr. J.F.J. Duindam


Not applicable.