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A Parting of Ways? Intellectuals and the State in the Long Eighteenth Century


Admission requirements

Not applicable


Eighteenth-century Europe’s place in the history of the public sphere has become axiomatic. This was the moment, the story goes, that the public began to properly compete with God as the moral tribunal before which rulers might be called to defend their actions. But what could public opinion and public intellectuals actually do? What was the relationship between experts, power, and the public, and how did the picture differ across the continent?

These are the problems at the heart of this lecture course. It examines the relationship between intellectuals and the state in Europe, c.1650-1825, problematising premises concerning ‘the birth of public opinion’ prevalent in narratives in scholarship and beyond. Across the semester, we will explore a wide range of points of contact between those who wielded political power, and those who undertook intellectual and critical work. We will meet figures canonical and less canonical, from Scotland to Siberia, and dive into such diverse contexts as courts and salons and cabinets; the London reading public and the Dutch book market; academic institutions and literary communities in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and St. Petersburg. Individual lecture topics include sessions on philosophical kingship and enlightened despotism; censorship and the publishing world; drama as political criticism; and the intellectual underpinnings of the French Revolution. At the same time, this course also introduces students to different approaches to an historical phenomenon, exploring how the relationship between ideas and politics, knowledge and power, can be studied as an history of ideas, science, gender, scholarship, political philosophy, theatre, and literature, aiming to equip students with a general grasp of the intellectual, cultural, and political landscape of eighteenth-century Europe.

At heart, this course aims to alert students to the porousness between the intellectual and the political, between the realms of philosophy and government, opening up conversations on what constitutes ‘the political’ and ‘the public’. Prising apart various models and cases of the relationship between intellectuals and government, this course also seeks to underline, forces us to reflect on what sort of relationship between knowledge and power we want to see in our own political worlds.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student can:

  • 1) organise and use relatively large amounts of information

  • 2) reflect critically on knowledge and understanding as presented in academic literature

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  • 3) The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically in the specialisation General History of the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific lecture course

The student:

  • 4) acquires knowledge about the chequered histories of criticism, expertise, and public opinion in a period of their ascendancy across the continent;

  • 5) learns to reflect on how intellectual activity is rooted in the wider political, cultural, and socio-economic landscape in which it occurs;

  • 6) gains insights into the terms of contemporary debates on the politics of expertise and public opinion, as well as an understanding of their historical stakes.


The timetables are avalable through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Self-study

Assessment method


The course will be assessed through one final test, covering all course objectives:

  • Final examination: written exam


  • Final examination: 100%


  • There is a resit for the final examination

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organised.

Reading list

Please refer to the reading list(s) on Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


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

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