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Current debates in medieval and early modern history I


Admission requirements



In this course we will be examining current debates in the history of medieval and early modern Europe. The aim of the literature seminars is both to acquaint you with historiographical developments and to let you think about the production of historical knowledge itself. We will therefore not just be charting how historical debates develop, but crucially also investigate why they do so
The course is taught twice a year and only runs for seven weeks. In these seven weeks, two topics will be discussed – see the description below for the topics on offer. Each student studies two topics over a period of six weeks.

Semester I weeks 1-3:
Part I, taught by dr. D. Haks and dr. R. Stein
The public sphere
The public sphere, the place where people can meet and freely discuss matters of common interest and their views with regard to government, is nowadays a given. It forms a vital element of modern democracy. Yet its existence wasn’t limited to contemporary times, its roots can be traced back to early modern times and beyond. The development and use of the public sphere, by princes, authorities and burghers is subject of a vivid scholarly debate: How was it used to display and communicate messages concerning the public interest? Is it possible to determine what the meaning of the public sphere was for society and politics? In this course, the arguments and outcome of this debate will be discussed.

Semester I, weeks 5-7
Part II, taught by prof. dr. Peter Hoppenbrouwers, prof. dr J.S. Pollmann and M.F.D. Eekhout MA
Stuff matters! History and material culture, 1300-1700
Once upon a time, history was mainly about of the study of texts. But that has definitely begun to change. Of all the methodological ‘turns’ which historians have taking over the last few decades, the ‘material-cultural’ turn seems to be one of the most promising. New theorists on material culture are teaching us to think harder about the way in which people use things, not only for shelter, protection, survival and work, but also to shape social relations, assert status, safeguard and evoke memories, and tell others who they are. Things, some argue, have a life, even a biography. Others even claim that material things can be agents in their own right. In this part of the course we will examine some of the theory on modern material culture, and examine to what extent and to what effect this is being applied by medievalists and early modernists. We will also ask how this differs from the work that was traditionally being done by archeologists and art historians.

Course objectives

The aim of the literature seminars is both to acquaint you with important historiographical developments in the area of premodern European history and to let you think about the production of historical knowledge itself. We will therefore not just be charting how historical debates develop, but crucially also investigate why they do so.

You will learn how historians start to ask new questions, not only under the influence of the new insights of their colleagues, but also in response to current social and political issues, or developments in adjacent disciplines.

By being aware of this, you can approach existing literature with a view to identifying evolving agenda’s and possible new steps in historical debate – and that will come in useful when starting work on your dissertation. We will also focus especially on the way historical debate has been influenced by traditional periodizations and of ‘national’ historiographical traditions.

For ResMA students an additional course aim is to develop your knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and its position vis a vis other disciplines.


Timetable History

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

  • Seminars (2 hours per week during 6 weeks), 12 hours.

  • Study of compulsory literature, 80 hours.

  • Preparation oral presentation, 48 hours.

  • Writing of essay/review article, 120 hours.

Assessment method

In each part of the course, the first two weeks are devoted to a discussion of texts we are reading collectively. In week 3 you will give a presentation on a book that you have studied individually, with a view to relating it to the debate under discussion. You will choose this book from a list that will be made available. You will also write a review article on this book.

We will test your understanding of two historical debates by three means: your participation in group discussion (for which you will be expected to offer propositions), two presentations, to be held in weeks 3 and 7, and the writing of two review essays of 3500 words each.

In the review essays you will not only be expected to demonstrate your understanding of the subject matter of your book, but also locate it in the wider historical debate, reflect on the way this has develop and why, and explore possible future directions of research. Research Master students will study two books written by authors working in different disciplinary traditions, and also focus their review on the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary research.

Assessment and grading method (in percentages):.

  • Participation in discussion: 25% final mark.

  • (Oral) Presentation short papers: 25% final mark.

  • Review articles: 50% final mark

The final grade for the course is established by determination of the weighted average combined with the additional requirement that the two review essays have to be marked 6 or higher for students to pass.


Blackboard is used for:

  • Circulate information

  • Communication

Reading list”

For part I:

  1. Inleiding op thema (college 1)
  • Asa Briggs en Peter Burke, A social history of the media. From Gutenberg to the internet (Cambridge 2010, 3rd edition) ch. 1 t/m 3

  • D’Avray, Printing, mass communication, and religious reformation: the Middle Ages and after, in:
    J. Crick, A. Walsham, (eds.) The Uses of Script and Print, 1300-1700 (Cambridge 2004) 50-70. Kopie beschikbaar op BB.

  1. Verdieping thema (college 2)
  • Leidulf Melve, ‘Introduction’, in idem, Inventing the public sphere. The public debate during the Investiture Contest (c. 1030-1222) (Leiden 2007) 3-43. Beschikbaar via catalogus UB

  • Andreas Gestrich, The public sphere and the Habermas debate, German history, 24 (2006) 413-430. Beschikbaar via catalogus UB

  1. Instructie voor het schrijven van een recensie (college 3)

For part II:

  • Caroline Walker Bynum, Christian materiality. An essay on religion in late medieval Europe (New York 2011)

  • Leora Auslander, ‘Beyond Words’, American Historical Review 110 (2005), p. 1015-1045.

  • Additional reading to be announced


via uSis


More information with the course coordinator
mw. Prof. dr. J.S. Pollmann


If only native speakers of Dutch participate, the course may be taught in Dutch.