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Political Eloquence in the Netherlands


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.

The main object of this class will be to study the reception Dutch political eloquence, and to that end at least passive knowledge and understanding of Dutch is crucial. However, we will try to accommodate foreign students with an interest in (the reception of) eloquence and rhetoric.


In March 2020, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte addressed the nation on the issue of the rapidly increasing Covid 19 crisis. The way Rutte voiced his concern in a television speech departed from his normal style, but fitted into a Dutch tradition of subdued, but demonstratively reasoned speeches by Prime Ministers and authority figures in general. It showed the strength of lasting traditions of political speech in the Netherlands.
In this course we will research the use, meaning and reception of political eloquence by concentrating on the case of the Netherlands. What were the highlights of eloquence, and what have become the classic speeches since the emergence of the modern Dutch state around 1800? Why has political eloquence not often been appreciated very much in the Netherlands, as compared to countries such as Britain, France and the United States? Why was the eloquence of Protestant clergymen admired, at least in the 19th century, whereas political rhetoric was often distrusted or not taken seriously? As historians, we will analyse the rhetoric of speeches but we will focus primarily on the reception of speeches and eloquence. We will also try to trace the development and changes of eloquence over the last two centuries, of the debates about the value and the danger of political rhetoric or, for instance, recent discussions about whether politicians should be trained as speakers or should, instead, rely on their ‘authentic’ qualities.

We will concentrate on the Netherlands, but there will be opportunities for the study of reception of foreign eloquence in the Netherlands. Why, for instance, was Barack Obama admired so much, whereas his style differed completely from his Dutch counterparts? It is, of course, possible to study the rhetoric of oppositional politicians or newcomers and outsiders who wanted to play a role in politics and society, and who often struck a much more passionate and sometimes religious tone. Most speeches that immediately spring to mind were delivered by men. What about female orators? How was their oratory received and commented?

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:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialization, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;
  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present: 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:

  1. Has acquired knowledge of the development of political eloquence in the Netherlands in an international perspective;
  2. Has shown that s/he is able to analyse political speeches and their context;
  3. Is able to assess and discuss the value and importance of political eloquence;
  4. Has contributed to the common discussion in class about the research theme;
  5. (ResMA only): Has shown the ability to analyse political eloquence from a multidisciplinary perspective.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. Students who are unable to attend must notify the lecturer 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 lecturer will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6.500-7.500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 9, 10-17

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 4, 7, 9

  • Active participation in class
    measured learning objectives: 4, 7, 9


  • Written paper: 70%

  • Oral presentation: 20%

  • Active participation: 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

The reading list will be published through Brightspace before the start of the semester.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.