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Historical Methods: International History in the Twentieth Century


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • Birth of the Modern World


This course offers an introduction to the theories and methods of history as a field of knowledge. Our general area of enquiry for this course will be the study international history in the twentieth century, will take up independent research projects related to some aspect of this field.

The first section of the course is dedicated to the analysis of history as a discipline. We will explore how historians operate; the assumptions they work from; their methods and sources; as well as their disagreements. We will touch upon on the evolving methods of diplomatic and international history, and the impact of successive epistemic ‘turns’ in the field. We will consider such questions as: what distinguishes history from the social sciences; historical sources, methods, organization, and framing; the assumptions historians make their ability to infer causation; and how the recent rise of transnational and global history challenges (and complements) more traditional approaches to international history.

The second section shifts the focus to methodology, and particularly to the use of archival sources. First, we will learn to identify these sources and work with archival catalogues. Then we will hone our skills of analysis. What methods should we use to collect and interpret different forms of historical evidence? What can our sources tell us about historical causation? How do we incorporate different types of sources, such as oral history and memoirs, into our analysis? Finally, how do we critically evaluate our sources, and interpret silences and omissions? On a more practical note, how do we avoid drowning in the seas of evidence that can spill out from the archive?

Throughout the course, students will pursue an independent research project on a chosen subject within the field of international history which will reflect, in condensed form, the process of devising and executing a piece of historical research. Students will select a topic, devise a research question, assess historiographical literature, identify and select relevant sources, dig into the sources, managing notes, and finally, putting their analysis to paper – one of our last classes will be a writing workshop. Students will be strongly encouraged to make use of the sources available through digital archives, and will have the option of visiting one or more archives.

Course Objectives

Successful completion of the course will enable students to:

  • identify the various aims and methods of historical scholarship, within the (broadly defined) field of international history

  • effectively navigate online and archival repositories of primary sources

  • skillfully analyze and synthesize both primary and secondary sources

  • devise and justify the design of a substantial research project

  • practice the skills required for writing a capstone proposal in history


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2021-2022 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This is a research workshop demanding active class participation and substantial independent reading beyond the syllabus. The class will require students to conceive and develop a substantial and original research project.

Assessment Method

  • class participation (15%)

  • initial proposal and annotated bibliography (15%)

  • research journal (30%)

  • final project (40%)

Reading list



Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Rick Tazelaar (