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Historical Controversies


Admission requirements


Can we become better historians by studying how historical knowledge has been produced and evaluated in the context of a number of historiographical debates?
The challenge for this course is to analyze some historiographical debates with what one might call ‘a heightened theoretical self-consciousness’ or with the instruments discussed in the historical methodology course. The main objective is to understand why certain historical interpretations are considered more plausible than others, which criteria are used in such processes of evaluation, why some perspectives are so hard to reconcile, and how historians fail to reach agreement due to different understandings of what causality or model-building is.
Each lecturer will present one or two debates in two sessions (see below). Students take part in the discussions and present a paper. Dassen will provide an introduction to the course.

Course objectives

The purpose of this course is to provide insight into some important historical debates. More specifically, the course aims (1) to introduce some carefully selected debates in historical studies, (2) to analyze these debates in historical and conceptual terms, and (3) to examine whether, in each of these cases, it is warranted to speak about “progress” in historical studies.


Monday 13-15 (Lipsius, 308); 15-17 (Lipsius 130)

Jan. 31
Patrick Dassen: Introduction

Feb. 7
Luuk de Ligt: The Ancient economy

Feb. 14
Luuk de Ligt: Romanisation

Feb. 21
Leo Lucassen: When did globalization begin?

Feb. 28
Leo Lucassen: The medieval roots of social change and economic growth: the Little Divergence

March 7
Thomas Lindblad: The Asian Miracle

March 14
Thomas Lindblad: The Asian Crisis

March 28
Jeroen Duindam: The French Revolution

April 4
Jeroen Duindam: The French Revolution

April 11
Adam Fairclough: The Reconstruction (US, 1865-1877)

April 18
Adam Fairclough: The Reconstruction (US, 1865-1877)

Mode of instruction

Research Seminar. Discussion, presentation, paper.

Assessment method

When the seminar has ended, everyone has to choose one of the controversies, study some aspect of it and present his results in a paper of about 5000 words length.


Reading list

Obligatory reading for the first meeting (31 Jan.): Raymond Martin, ‘Progress in historical studies’, History and Theory 37 (1998) 14-39. Each lecturer will send an email about the obligatory reading before the start of his first meeting.
P. Lambert & P. Schofield (eds.), Making History: An Introduction to the Practices of History, London: Routledge 2004 (and later editions) is strongly recommended as a background text.


See enrolment-procedure.

Contact information

E-mail: dr. P. Dassen


The students (c. 25?) will be split into two groups. For the Time Schedule see below. By January 2011 the students will get more information by email.