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Historical Research Methods: History and Testimony


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

None, but Birth of the Modern World is recommended.


This course offers an introduction to the theories and methods of history as a form of knowledge. Thematically, our course will focus on how historians treat testimony, particularly in the interdisciplinary field of comparative genocide and human rights.

We will begin with an exploration of what distinguishes history from other disciplines. Working with a handful of example essays, we will explore how historians operate: the assumptions they work from, their methods and sources, and their disagreements. We will also consider how historians apply (or avoid) theoretical paradigms from other disciplines, with particular attention to the complex relationship between history and collective memory.

In addition, we will engage intensively with primary sources, including international collections of testimony on genocide and other human rights abuses. Students will learn how to locate, organize, and analyze these sources, considering questions such as: What methods should we use to interpret documentary, visual, or oral evidence? Why, where, when, and how were various sources created, circulated, and received—and why does it matter? How can we read for and interpret silences and omissions? Why are certain sources collected, while others evade preservation?

Along the way, students will pursue independent projects. The course will equip students with historical methods and theories that they can apply to their own research questions in the broad field of comparative genocide and human rights. They will gain experience in narrowing down a topic, devising a research question, synthesizing historiographical literature, identifying and interpreting a body of sources, managing notes and data, and, finally, putting it all into writing. In this respect, our seminar will function as a workshop, where students will present on their progress and share ideas about the challenges, rewards, and frustrations of historical research.

Course Objectives

Successful completion of the course will enable students to:

  • identify the various aims and methods of historical scholarship within the field of comparative genocide and human rights

  • navigate archival repositories of primary sources, particularly testimonies

  • analyze and synthesize both primary and secondary sources

  • devise and justify the design of a substantial research project

  • understand and appreciate different modes of historical writing


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 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 their own research projects.

Assessment Method

  • Class participation (15%)

  • Presentation (15%)

  • Preliminary research proposal and annotated bibliography (15%)

  • Research journal (20%)

  • Final research project (35%)

Reading list

To be announced.


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. K.L. Brackney,