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Historical Theory


Admission requirements

This course is offered exclusively to Research Master students in History; others cannot attend this course.


This course discusses major problems in Historical Theory or Philosophy of History through close readings of relevant texts. The first half of the course will be devoted to ‘classic’ themes like explanation, narrative, representation, paradigms, and epistemic virtues; the second half will explore new developments at the intersections of history, literature, ethics, sociology, digital humanities, and environmental humanities.

Students write a 6,000 word paper in English or Dutch. Please note: this is an intensive research seminar, the success of which depends on the active participation of all students. Students are not only supposed to attend all classes and read all required materials, but also to contribute to discussions of the assigned materials, both online (on Brightspace, the electronic learning environment) and in class. At the end of the semester, students write a paper related to topics discussed in this course. Details will be discussed during the first class.

Course objectives

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific Common Course: Historical Theory

This course aims:

  1. To provide knowledge of and insight in some of the most important theories of historical scholarship;
  2. To enable students to analyze and evaluate such theories as developed in various disciplinary contexts;
  3. To enable students to relate such theories to their own research and writing, so as to help them reflect on their own practices of research and writing;
  4. To develop oral and written presentation skills (the ability to produce a paper conforming to scholarly standards).


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 (6,000 words, based on research in primary sources, inclusive title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-4

  • Active participation in class
    measured learning objectives: 1-4


  • Written paper: 75%

  • Participation: 25%

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

Students who have not followed an introductory course to Historical Theory or Philosophy of History in their bachelor programs are expected to prepare themselves by reading one of the following textbooks:

  • Mark Day, The Philosophy of History: An Introduction (London; New York: Continuum, 2008), ISBN 978-0826488480 (paperback).

  • Herman Paul, Key Issues in Historical Theory (New York; London: Routledge, 2015), ISBN 978-1138802735 (paperback).

All other reading materials (journal articles, book chapters) will be made available online or in photocopy form.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

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


  • 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.


Not applicable.