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(Re)framing Past and Present in Narrative Sources from the Low Countries (c. 1250-c.1800)


Admission requirements

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

(Passive) knowledge of the Dutch language is required.


During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, local historiographical traditions emerged in most regions of the Low Countries, initially in Latin, but soon after also in the local vernaculars. In chronicles and annals, local historiographers kept record of important events including dynastic births, marriages and deaths, international conflicts and diplomacy, the outbreak and resolution of domestic uprisings, religious troubles and/or other major crises such as environmental disasters and epidemics. They sourced their information from authoritative accounts, oral traditions, (eyewitness) informants or gossip, documentary sources and their own lived experience.

These historiographers generally place great emphasis on reliability, truthworthiness, and impartiality. Nonetheless, their representations of historical events and their protagonists were seldom left unaffected by contemporary sociopolitical controversy. Stories about the past allowed authors to take a stand on sensitive topics in their own time (‘presenting’), such as government policy or the legitimacy of revolt. It is not surprising that depending on the time and place in which they were writing, different authors could portray the same event or individual in radically different ways.

In this research seminar, we will delve into the strategies late medieval and early modern writers had at their disposal to frame historical events or refashion pre-existing narratives to optimally suit contemporary needs and expectations. Formulating hypotheses about the reasons underlying a particular representation, will allow us to explore the possibilities and limitations of different methodologies and/or theoretical approaches while simultaneously being confronted with some of the defining characteristics and problems of medieval textuality (textual variation, intertextuality, blurring of genre boundaries, intermediality between manuscript and print, ‘medievalism’, etc.).

For their individual research, students will focus on an individual or event that features prominently in the historiography of (a particular region in) the Low Countries. Based on medieval and early modern narrative sources, they will interpret the differences between (near)contemporary accounts written in the same area or across regional boundaries (synchronic), or outline how representations have evolved over time (diachronic). Many of the most interesting sources were written in (Middle) Dutch, but students will also have the opportunity to explore materials written in other languages (Latin, French, German) and interlingual comparisons will be welcomed.

Due to the coronavirus measures, this class will be taught predominantly online, apart from a limited number of on-campus meetings (e.g. presentations) and possibly a library visit.

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 the specialisation or subtrack as well as of the historiography of the specialisation Europe 1000-1800, with a particular focus on the 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.

    1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation Europe 1000-1800, with a particular focus on the ability to analyse and evaluate primary sources from the period, if necessary with the aid of modern translations; ability to make use of relevant methods of quantitative and qualitative analysis to interpret sources in their textual and historical context.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) Will acquire a general overview of the medieval en early modern regional historiography of the Low Countries.

  • 14) Will learn the problematics and methodologies of conducting research on the manuscript transmission of medieval and early modern narrative sources.

  • 15) Will develop the ability to conduct original research based on primary source material.

  • 16) (ResMA only): – ResMA students will learn to incorporate sources written in different languages and/or periods efficiently in a coherent research project.


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, (s)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, (s)he will be excluded from the seminar.

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: 16)

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-7, 9

  • Participation in class
    measured learning objectives: 6-9 (ResMA also: 10)


  • Written paper: 70 %

  • Oral presentation: 20%

  • Participation in class: 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 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

To be announced through Brightspace.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr B. Caers Dr D. Schoenaers